Just making it to the provincial bantam AAA baseball championships for the first time ever was a huge accomplishment for the Cowichan Valley Mustangs, so for the team to compete as well as it did was even more remarkable.
The Mustangs, who got into the tournament in White Rock by winning one of two wildcard berths, went 0-4 against the best teams in B.C. on July 31 and Aug. 1 and 2, but three of those defeats were by a single run, including one game that went into extra innings.
“You could always say we could have used another two or three runs, but you have to look at what the players did,” head coach Lorne LaFleur said.
The Mustangs lost 3-2 in their opening game against top-seeded Abbotsford on Friday morning, then fell 5-4 to Delta the next afternoon. On Sunday morning, the Mustangs lost 13-3 to North Island, but they bounced back to take Tri Cities to extra innings before ultimately falling 1-0.
“When we won our way into the tournament, we knew it would be tough,” LaFleur said. “Being [seeded] in the bottom of our pool, having such a young team, and winning our way in as the wildcard.”
Even opening against the top seed didn’t faze the players, who got within a run of a huge upset.
“Our kids played well,” LaFleur said. “Even though we didn’t win a game, I think they felt fairly good about it. All in all, we played pretty good over there.”
Even the game the Mustangs lost by more than one run wasn’t exactly lopsided. Although it went in the books as a 10-run defeat, Cowichan kept things close for most of the contest.
“It was maybe 4-1 in the fourth or fifth, then in a couple of innings we made some mistakes and they started hitting the ball,” LaFleur recalled. “All of a sudden they were scoring four or five runs in an inning.”
It was strong play from throughout the lineup that got the Mustangs into the provincial tournament, and that patter continued at the championships.
“We got good play from a number of different players,” LaFleur said. “It wasn’t about one or two guys doing it.”
A particularly young team, the Mustangs improved significantly over the course of the season, to the point where their play at provincials caught the attention of some of the BC Baseball executive, including president Mike Sarai and bantam division chair Mike Kelly, both of whom complimented LaFleur for his team’s performance on and off the field.
“They were quite happy with the way we played and the way we competed,” LaFleur said.
Statistically, the Mustangs were led by Cam LeSergent, who hit .417 with two doubles and a triple over the four games; Pearsen Moreside, who hit .400 with a double; and Jackson Stephen, who batted .375 with a triple. Andrew Strobl led the team with two RBIs and tied LeSergent for the team lead with two stolen bases.
The team was made up of half first-year and half second-year players, but none who had played previously at the AAA level, so the opportunity to attend provincials is something all the Mustangs can build on for next year, whether they move on to midget or remain at bantam.
“It was a good experience for them,” LaFleur said. “We talked to them and pointed out that only 120 kids in the province get to play at the provincial championships, and 14 of them were our guys.
“It’s looking bright for next season. We’ll have seven returning players, approximately, including some young guys who played a big part this year. Four or five of them played big parts; they didn’t just sit on the bench.”