Mustangs sneak into bantam provincials

They may have done it the hard way, but the bantam AAA Cowichan Valley Mustangs are heading to the provincial championships.

They may have done it the hard way, but the bantam AAA Cowichan Valley Mustangs are heading to the provincial championships.

“We snuck into the tournament,” assistant coach Tod LeSergent said.

To get into provincials, the Mustangs had to be one of the top two at an eight-team, double-elimination wildcard tournament, which culminated with a thrilling game against the Nanaimo Pirates this past Monday.

The Mustangs put themselves in a tough spot right off the hop by losing their tournament opener 4-2 to host Aldergrove.

“To get that first loss in a double knockout is pretty tough, but we came back all the way through the back door,” head coach Lorne LaFleur said.

The Mustangs kept their hopes alive by beating Vernon 4-2 in the next game behind the pitching of Billy Ramwell.

“We started hitting the ball,” LaFleur said. “In our first game, we weren’t bad either, but their pitcher threw a really good game against us.”

Things kept rolling along as the Mustangs went on to defeat Richmond 13-4 as Brady Radcliffe pitched a complete game.

Because of the double-knockout format, Cowichan ended up facing Aldergrove again, in a game both teams were desperate to win. No one scored through the first seven innings, so it went to extras. Radcliffe led off the top of the eighth with a double, and Cam LeSergent laid down a bunt to get him home. The next three batters went out, and Aldergrove had their chance to hit. Gavin Pringle, who pitched the first seven innings, went back to the mound and sent the next three batters off to secure the victory.

“Gavin threw a gem,” LaFleur said. “In both his and Brady’s games, the boys pitched really well.”

As the score showed, both teams were also nearly perfect on defence behind their chuckers.

“It was an awesome game,” Tod LeSergent said. “Both teams were saying that afterwards as we shook hands.”

Just before their last game of the tournament, the skies opened up, covering the fields with water. Vancouver had already clinched one of the wildcard berths, so it was down to Cowichan and Nanaimo. The teams agreed to play the next day in Nanaimo.

As planned, Cam LeSergent went to the hill and pitched a complete game for a 4-2 victory as the Mustangs earned the last provincial berth. The teams each scored once in the first inning. Nanaimo took the lead with one run in the bottom of the third, but Cowichan got that one back in the top of the fifth, then went ahead for good with two runs in the top of the seventh.

“The boys were excited,” LaFleur said. “We were excited. They just played really well.”

The Mustangs went 11-19 during league play this year as some of the younger players adjusted to the bantam AAA level, but things have picked up down the stretch.

“It’s been a team effort,” LaFleur said. “A few of the senior guys were doing the heavy lifting in the early part of the season. Seeing some of our potential and how close we were to everyone else in the league, in the last month it’s been coming together. We’re peaking at the right time.”

Defensive errors were the team’s Achilles heel early on, but they’ve clearly turned that around with some zero-error games recently.

“That’s really an accomplishment for kids this age, when you can go out with 13-, 14-, 15-year-old kids and not make any errors,” LaFleur said.

The Mustangs will be one of 10 teams at the provincial championships in White Rock this weekend. The field is split into two divisions, playing a round robin with the top two teams from each division advancing to the playoffs. LaFleur feels good about his team’s chances.

“We’ve played everyone already,” he noted. “The majority of teams there we can beat and we have beaten this season. The goal is always to come out victorious. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think we can make the playoff round.”