A season after the White Rock Tritons ended a five-year stretch without qualifying for BC Premier Baseball League playoffs, the under-18 squad will again be on the sidelines when the post-season begins.
But it wasn’t for lack of trying.
The Peninsula crew started the season poorly, and had just two wins in their first 15 games, before rallying over the final six weeks to finish with an 16-28 win-loss record. They came within two games of securing the eighth and final playoff berth – and were one game away from, at the very least, forcing a do-or-die play-in game against the Abbotsford Cardinals for that final spot.
Instead, they missed the post-season party after losing both ends of a doubleheader Sunday against the Cards, plus a game earlier in the week against the Langley Blaze.
In the first game Sunday, Abbotsford pitcher Carter Loewen threw a no-hitter, and in the second contest, a 3-1 loss, the Tritons gave up runs on a balk and an error.
“We did everything that we possibly could, but we just couldn’t get in there,” White Rock head coach Russ Smithson said.
“We just had a rough final week. We had two chances to beat Langley, and couldn’t do it. And against Abbotsford, we had the error, the balk. And in Game 1 (Loewen) just pitched a gem. We couldn’t touch him.”
Though the season ended on a down note, the veteran coach refused to call the season a disappointment, instead pointing to the late-season run his team went on, after starting with so many losses.
“We didn’t have the most talented team, but they worked so hard. They battled their asses off every game,” Smithson said. “I still think it was a positive year – they never gave up.”
The Tritons were beset by a handful of key injuries this season, too. First baseman Tom Melenchuk – one of the PBL’s top sluggers – missed the majority of the season with an elbow injury that required surgery, and against Abbotsford last weekend, Smithson’s lineup card was missing veterans Janssen Crossley and Jason Hill, who were out with injuries. The team called up six players from the U16 Junior Tritons as a result.
“Losing Tom was flat-out devastating. The guys all stepped up (in his absence) but it’s tough to replace a guy who would’ve been hitting in the No. 4 spot in your order,” Smithson said.
Next season, Melenchuk and 11 other seniors will have graduated the program, leaving returnees like Dawson Veeneman, Jason Hill and Graydon Rasmussen to lead the way.
“We’ll have a lot of fresh faces in the lineup next year, but I think we can still be a playoff team. That’s still in the cards for us,” Smithson said.