Earlier this season, with the White Rock Tritons in the midst of one of their tougher stretches of play – not far removed from a 23-0 spanking at the hands of the first-place Langley Blaze – head coach Russ Smithson preached patience.
“The boys are working hard, the results will come,” he said. “We are learning how to play at this level, and once we figure it out, we will be winning ball games.”
The learning curve was quick, it turns out.
The Tritons are still stuck in the bottom third of the BC Premier Baseball League pack with a losing record – they are 7-15 heading into this weekend’s action – but they’ve been much improved of late. The U18 baseball squad has won four of its last six game; a scheduled game Tuesday night against the North Delta Blue Jays was postponed due to rain.
“It’s huge for us to finally start getting some wins,” Smithson said.
The third-year coach of the PBL team said the difference in his club’s performance has been a lot of little things – a hit here, a strikeout there – which, when added together, have meant a few more notches in the win column.
“The guys are young and they’re finally learning how to get some hits when we really need them, and it’s resulted in some wins for us,” said Smithson.
“It’s been about winning the clutch battles – like when you’re up (to bat) and you’ve got two outs and runners on base. For the first month, we wouldn’t get that hit that we’d need, and now we are.
“It’s the same with our pitchers. Earlier, with men on base, they were struggling, and now they’re finding ways to get guys out. We’re starting to reverse some trends.”
Last weekend in Parksville, White Rock won both ends of a doubleheader against the Royals, winning Game 1 10-0 and the second contest 5-2.
Scott Doucet – whom Smithson praised for his play of late – pitched 4⅔ innings in Game 1 before the game ended on account of the mercy rule. He struck out six while allowing just one hit.
“Scotty’s been going out every weekend and throwing a complete game, or close to it. He’s got four of our seven wins, and has just been great,” Smithson said.
White Rock was credited with just four hits in the lopsided win, but the offence was aided by seven Royals’ errors. Liam Rihela and James Pavelick each drove in a pair of runs.
In Game 2, pitcher Zach Campagne got the ball for White Rock, striking out eight while allowing just six hits and two runs in seven innings of work. The win evened Campagne’s pitching record to 1-1 on the season.
Following the sweep of the Royals, the Tritons moved on to Nanaimo Sunday, winning the first game 4-3 before dropping the nightcap 5-0.
In the victory, pitcher Max Koltai – who tossed a complete-game no-hitter earlier this month – was again sharp, striking out eight Pirates batters in four and two-thirds innings.
Though Koltai’s command was a little off in Nanaimo – he walked eight – Smithson said his pitching has been instrumental in helping turn around his team’s fortunes of late.
“Max had a lot going on earlier in the season – he was visiting some schools, and had a lot of stuff happening that was keeping him away from the ballpark a little bit,” the coach explained.
“But he’s really getting into a groove now, and that’s really going to help us out going forward.”
With an eye toward the rest of the season – the team has 26 games left to play – Smithson said the goal is to play well enough to sneak into the playoffs. The top eight teams in the 13-team league advance to the post-season; the Tritons are currently 4½ games back of eighth-place Nanaimo in the playoff chase.
“Coming up, we have a pretty – I don’t want to say ‘easy’ schedule, because nothing is easy – but we have a friendly schedule coming up for the next three or four weeks,” Smithson said. “So we have a real chance to give us a shot at that eighth playoff spot, if we play well.”
His players realize, too, the opportunity that awaits them as the calendar switches to June.
“Oh, for sure they know it. They’re excited – nobody wants to be totally out of it with three weeks left in the season. So if we keep winning some games here, and then maybe squeak out a win or two against some top teams at the end of the year, we have a shot.”
White Rock plays at home four times this weekend, assuming the weather co-operates.
At South Surrey Athletic Park Saturday, the Tritons will play twice against the Okanagan Athletics, at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. On Sunday, the two teams will square off twice more, at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.