After a tough first few months of the season, things are finally picking up for the White Rock Tritons.
The hard-luck BC Premier Baseball League team – which has been stuck in last place in the 12-team circuit for much of the season – has won four of its last five games, and is 6-4 over the last 10.
More importantly, despite a 9-21 win-loss record, they’re now within striking distance of the eighth and final playoff spot, which is currently held by the Coquitlam Reds, who have a 12-20 mark.
The Tritons are currently in a three-team deadlock – along with the struggling Abbotsford Cardinals and the Victoria Mariners – for the ninth spot.
Last weekend, the Tritons headed south for a tournament in Seattle, but prior to their trip to the Emerald City, they reeled off a 10-win over the North Delta Blue Jays; took both ends of a doubleheader against the Mariners two Saturdays ago, and followed up June 7 by splitting a two-game set against the North Shore Twins – the team’s win streak came to an end in the second game when they lost 7-1.
But aside from that blip, they’ve been among the league’s hottest squads – a streak head coach Russ Smithson attributes largely to the team’s hitters.
“We’ve been on a nice little roll here, it’s nice,” he said.
“And the difference, mostly, is offence, I gotta say. We’re not pressing, and the runs are just starting to come. It’s a little overdue, but better late than never.”
In turn, the offensive boost has lifted up the rest of the team, he added.
The team had received some solid pitching performances prior to the team’s June turnaround, but defence had been a struggle until recently.
“It’s easing up the pitching staff, and taking some pressure off the defence, so naturally we’re playing better there, too,” Smithson said.
“You don’t think that every runner that gets on first base is going to score anymore, and for awhile it felt like that. When you’re not putting up numbers, it can be difficult all around, and your problems snowball.”
Smithson was especially pleased with the play of three of his veteran hitters – catcher Thomas Vincent and outfielders Aaron Wiegert and Juan Paez.
Since the team’s 10-0 win over the Blue Jays on June 4, the trio has been on fire.
In that span, Vincent has hit .500 (7-for-14), with a double, triple, five runs-batted-in and four walks; Paez is hitting .555 with two doubles, four runs-scored, two RBI and four stolen bases; and Wiegert is hitting .461 with a triple, four RBI, four stolen bases, four runs and two walks.
“Those three are guys we were really relying on this year, and they’ve really found their groove, and that’s picked us up big time,” Smithson said. “(Shortstop) Danny Hollins had really been carrying the offence before that, but he can only carry us so much. He needed some help, and the guys have done it.”
The coach also had high praise for pitcher Patrick van den Brink, who pitched the team to a pair of victories – first, in the win over North Delta, and then against the Twins.
In the first game, van den Brink lasted six innings, allowing just two hits and one walk, while striking out seven. Against the Twins, he pitched four and two-thirds of an inning, giving up just one earned run and striking out five.
“Pat threw on short rest for us, and was just outstanding. He picked everybody up,” Smithson said.
With just 14 games left on the regular-season schedule, the Tritons will have to continue to pick up wins if they want to stay in the hunt.
They still have four games left against Abbotsford – a team that started red hot but has won just three of its last 10 games – and those games could go a long way to determining if either one can catch Coquitlam for the final playoff spot.
“Those games are huge for us. It could really swing things one way or the other – for either team,” said Smithson.
“We have some winnable games that can keep us in the hunt – we just have to go out there and get it done, and win them.
“I’ll give the guys credit, they were never really down on themselves and they always put in the effort when we were struggling, but this kind of gives us an extra bit of energy, now that we can see ourselves potentially back in the playoff picture.”
White Rock played the Whalley Chiefs last night (Tuesday) after Peace Arch News’ deadline, and then won’t play another league tilt until a June 27 doubleheader against the North Delta Blue Jays.
The U18 Tritons aren’t the only local baseball team that’s been on a roll of late.
The under-16 Junior Tritons are right in the thick of the playoff mix in the BC Junior Premier Baseball League, sitting in fourth place with a 12-9 won-loss record. They’ve got 6-4 over the last 10 contests, and are coming off a split against the North Shore Junior Twins last weekend in North Vancouver.
White Rock won the first game of the doubleheader, 7-4, on the strength of a sixth-inning comeback.
Trailing 4-1 heading into the frame, the Tritons exploded for six runs to stake themselves a sizable lead.
First baseman Nick Kutilin and third baseman Jeremy Kelleway led the way with two hits apiece, while pitcher Matthew Leeder earned the win on the mound, striking out two while allowing four runs in five innings of work. Chris Kaufmann pitched the last inning to pick up the save.
In the second game, the Twins got a measure of revenge, winning 12-7.
Dawson Gray had a triple, and a run-batted-in, and Michael O’Toole had a double to lead the Tritons’ offence.
The Junior Tritons are back on the field tonight (Wednesday) for a road tilt against the Abbotsford Cardinals at Abby’s Delair Park. This Sunday, White Rock will head to Coquitlam for two games against the Redlegs.