Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart
July 25, 2017, Victoria, BC – The first-place Victoria HarbourCats continued their pursuit of a second half West Coast League North Division title Tuesday night, opening up a three-game series with their Canadian rival Kelowna Falcons at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria. The teams put on an epic battle, with the Falcons coming away with an exciting 6-5 win in 11 innings.
The game Tuesday was a possible North Division playoff preview, as the Falcons clinched the first half North Division title and resulting playoff spot earlier this month. They have struggled since then however, having lost a number of key players from that first half run and came into Tuesday’s game sporting a 3-12 second half record and fresh off a 19-7 loss to Bend on Monday night.
The HarbourCats (24-19 overall, 10-6 second half), were coming off a pair of road series wins against Bellingham and Gresham, and swept the Falcons in Kelowna on July 4-6 (outscoring them 36-8) and began their quest to do that again on Tuesday by sending All-Star left-handed pitcher Jack Owen to the mound.
The 4-1 Owen showed why he was a 2017 All-Star, as he contained the Falcons all night, shutting them out on just five hits and three walks, while striking out six, over the first seven innings of the game.
Meanwhile, the HarbourCats offence to that point, led by three hits each from Kevin Collard and Shane McGuire, whose trio of hits included a solo home run, had staked Owen to a 4-0 lead, scoring runs in each of the second, fourth, fifth and seventh innings.
Unfortunately, the HarbourCats bullpen, who were without the services of Indigo Diaz and Travis Kuhn after they had pitched two days in a row in Gresham, could not hold that lead.
Kelowna would score two in the eighth off ‘Cats pitcher James Bradwell, thanks to an RBI ground out from Logan Steinberg and an RBI single from Cole Mueller to cut the lead to 4-2. They would then get to Radd Thomas in the ninth for three more runs, courtesy of a Trent Tinglestad bases loaded walk and then a two-RBI double from Taylor Wright that just missed clearing the right field fence for a grand slam.
The Falcons could not hold that 5-4 lead however, as the HarbourCats 18-year old phenom McGuire would launch his second home run and fourth hit of the evening in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
In the 10th, to the delight of the 2,531 fans in attendance, the HarbourCats sent Claire Eccles to the mound and she was brilliant, retiring the side in order, including a one-out strikeout of Cade Peters. The Falcons and their reliever Shea Berry, who had come on in the bottom of the ninth, matched Eccles however, retiring the ‘Cats in order to send the game into the 11th.
Victoria then went to local product Stephen Wade for the top of the frame and he walked JT Williams to begin the frame. After a pair of outs, Wade gave up an RBI single to Steinberg to score Williams putting the Falcons back in the lead 6-5.
The drama was not yet over, as in the bottom of the 11th, Riley Zayicek and Cole Weiss drew back-to-back walks and were then moved up on a great sacrifice bunt from Harry Shipley. That brought Hunter Vansau to the plate and he stroked what would have been a game-winning screamer down the line toward third, but Kelowna third baseman Mueller made a great shoestring catch of the line drive and then stepped on third to easily double off Zayicek and end the exciting game.
Mueller and Wright both finished with three-hit evenings for Kelowna, while Steinberg had a pair of hits and two RBIs to help pace the offence. For Victoria, Maguire’s four hits and two RBIs led the way. He also scored twice. Collard finished with three hits and an RBI on the night, while Zayicek went 2/3 with a pair of walks.
On the mound, Kelowna starter Cal Hehnke went six full innings surrendering three runs on nine hits, while walking one and striking out six. Holden Groff gave up one run in two innings of relief and Barry, despite giving up the solo home run to McGuire, takes the win with three innings of work.
For Victoria, Owen takes a tough no-decision, dropping his league-leading ERA to just 1.02. Wade takes the loss in relief.
The loss was a tough one for Victoria, but it was made even tougher given that both Bellingham and Wenatchee, who trailed the HarbourCats by 2.5 games heading into Tuesday’s action, won their games and are now both 1.5 games back in the battle for the North Division title.
Victoria and Kelowna resume their series on Wednesday evening with Victoria’s Adam McKillican (4-1) slated to get the start against Kelowna’s Brayden Price. They will wrap up their series with a matinee at 1:05 pm on Thursday with the HarbourCats sending Taylor Prokopis to the hill, while the Falcons reply with Carson Dwyre.
Cat Scratches: HarbourCats pitcher Taylor Prokopis and Manager Brian McRae were ejected from the crazy Game 1 win in Gresham last Saturday and are currently serving four and six game suspensions respectively. Prokopis will be back (and is the probable starter) for the third game against Kelowna on Thursday afternoon, while McRae will return for Saturday’s game in Cowlitz. The grind that is summer collegiate baseball also continues to take its toll on the HarbourCats. Recent departures from the team include Bryce Bonner (injury), Jack Taggett (injury), Liam Steigerwald (injury), Jake Garella (academics) and Isaac Mullins (personal reasons). It was also announced Tuesday that Claire Eccles will be leaving the team following the Kelowna series to begin play with the Canadian National Women’s team. Indigo Diaz is also anticipated to be departing soon, as he nears a pitching innings limitation dictated by his college team. To try and fill the gaps in the pitching roster, joining the team in Bellingham last week was RHP Kyle Stubbins (UBC). Other recent additions to the pitching staff include Garinder Sarana (Elmira College), Stephen Wade (Southern Idaho), Wyatt Boone (Seattle) and James Bradwell (UBC).