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WCL Finals Preview // Victoria HarbourCats vs. Corvallis Knights

After setting numerous all-time records and franchise bests, the HarbourCats will look to add another franchise first in 2019 this weekend—winning their first West Coast League Championship. (Photo by Christian J. Stewart) 

The fairy tale summer will continue on Vancouver Island. As the top two teams in the regular season, the Corvallis Knights (42-12) and Victoria HarbourCats (39-15), will meet in the West Coast League Finals for the second time in three seasons.

The 81 combined wins between the HarbourCats and Knights is the most by two teams to reach the WCL Finals in league history.

Victoria and Corvallis also lead the postseason with runs in 2019, coming into the Finals with 16 runs scored apiece in the Divisional Series.

The HarbourCats celebrate after walking off Wenatchee last night in the North Divisional. (Photo by Christian J. Stewart)

Less than 24 hours after scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth to knock off the Wenatchee AppleSox, and clinch the North Division pennant, the HarbourCats will look to end the Knights reign atop the WCL.

Corvallis has won the last three consecutive league titles— defeating Victoria two games to one in 2017 for the second straight title—and have made the postseason in every year since 2007. Corvallis has also made the Finals 10 times in the 14-year history of the WCL.

It’s been a record breaking year in Victoria, however, as the HarbourCats will bring a potent offence to the final round.

The HarbourCats combined to shatter nine WCL all-time records, set three new franchise marks, and clinch the First and Second Half pennant for the first time in one season, Victoria will have the chance to set another franchise first before the summer ends—winning the league championship.

Victoria and Corvallis have a rivalry that dates back to 2017, when the Knights edged the HarbourCats in the Finals two summers ago. (Photo: Christian J. Stewart)

Fierce Rivalry 

Although the two teams reside in separate divisions, the HarbourCats and Knights have established a fierce rivalry outside of their regular season interleague play.

Victoria met Corvallis in the 2017 WCL Finals, after going on a playoff run for the ages which saw them initially sneak into the playoffs with a Second Half Pennant on the last day of the regular season. The HarbourCats stunned the Kelowna Falcons with a first round sweep, and upset Corvallis in game one of the Finals, before dropping the final two contests in the best-of-three series to the Knights.

The HarbourCats exacted some revenge last season when Corvallis made their first trip back to Vancouver Island since the 2017 Finals, taking two of three games from the Knights in July. But Corvallis would return the favour by winning two of three in Victoria earlier this season.

Gus Wilson couldn’t hide his smile as he rounded third base after tying the game two of the WCLDS at one in first with a home run. Victoria avoided elimination with the victory, and defeated Wenatchee 8-7  in the deciding game three. (Christian J. Stewart)

How we got here

Victoria came from behind in the ninth inning last night at Wilsons’s Group Stadium to stun the Wenatchee AppleSox in a deciding game three of the North Division Championship series. .

Down to their final two outs in the ninth, with Victoria leading by two runs, Wenatchee’s Tanner Smith and Torin Montgomery hit a pair of RBI base hits with the bases loaded to give Wenatchee a two run lead with one inning left. However, the HarbourCats responded in bottom of the ninth—as Harrison Spohn hit a walk off single to send the ‘Cats to the WCL Finals.

In the South bracket, Corvallis also needed a game three to take down the Walla Walla Sweets. The Knights won game three 6-2 over the Sweets to set a date with the HarbourCats in the Finals.

Nick Plaia and Harrison Spohn are all smiles before the regular season finale against the Port Angeles Lefties. Spohn was later rewarded with the 2019 HarbourCats Community award, and Plaia had his number 23 inducted into Victoria’s ring of honour in the pregame festivities. (Photo by Christian J. Stewart)

The Home Team

Despite allowing four runs in the top half of the ninth yesterday, Victoria’s bullpen has been dominant in the postseason.

In a game one loss of the Divisional Series, relievers Tyler Hilton and Mikey Callia combined to hold the AppleSox to no runs and only three hits in four plus innings of work, while in game two Josh Laukkanen hurled 3 2/3 of one-hit ball and Hunter Omlind and Jacob Putter held the ‘Sox to one hit over the final three frames.

Fynn Chester and Hunter Omlid combined to pitch another four scoreless innings last night in game three of the WCLDS, before Wenatchee broke through the HarbourCat bullpen for the first time in the series—scoring four runs before the ‘Cats clawed back in the home half.

At the plate, meanwhile, it’s been a pair of Vancouver Island-born HarbourCats who have led the charge offensively. Duncan’s Gus Wilson hit a home run that sparked the ‘Cats to a win in game two of the WCLDS, while Victoria’s Ty Schindel is batting .500 through 10 at-bats this postseason—racking up five hits, including three doubles and an RBI.

2019 Player of the Year Griffin Paxton has a team-leading three RBI in the playoffs, and yesterday’s walk off hero Harrison Spohn is batting .333 through the first three games of the postseason.

Griffin Paxton had three RBI in yesterday’s dramatic 8-7 HarbourCats victory. (Photo by Christian J. Stewart)

Scouting Report

With 41 wins in the regular season this year, Corvallis broke the WCL record for most wins in a single season—previously held by Victoria, who set the original record of 40 back in 2016. The Knights also came close to breaking the longest consecutive win streak league record held by the ‘Cats (19), but saw their streak end at 16 with a loss in Port Angeles to the Lefties back on July 9.

Player to watch— (IF) Briley Knight: The Corvallis native led the Knights with eight home runs and 42 RBI in the regular season, and so far in the playoffs he has three walks and a RBI.

Last time out

Victoria hasn’t met Corvallis since early June, when the Knight visited Wilson’s Group Stadium to begin the first home stand of 2019. Corvallis edged the ‘Cats 2-1 in game one of that series on June 5, and after a Victoria loss in game two, the HarbourCats responded in the series final to down the Knights 4-1.

Notable Season Stats

Victoria (39-15) finished the 2019 regular season with 12 more victories than they had in 2018 (27), the biggest turnaround by one team in the league. The Bend Elks were second by increasing their win total by 9 from 12 to 21. 

After going 20-7 in the regular season at home this summer, the HarbourCats moved to 2-0 at Wilson’s Group Stadium in the postseason after advancing past Wenatchee in the North Division Championship Series. Victoria hasn’t lost a game at home stadium since July 21.

The HarbourCats haven’t lost two games in a row in nearly three weeks (July 21 and 25), and dropped more than two consecutive games all season. Victoria has lost twice in a row only four times in 2019.

– Victoria also hasn’t lost more than two consecutive games all season.

WATCH LIVE

Game one of the WCL Finals will kick off at Wilson’s Group Stadium tonight at 6:35, before the series will shift to Corvallis for games two and three on the weekend.

First pitch for all playoff games are scheduled for 6:35p.m., and you can buy tickets for Victoria’s home games here.

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