Duncan Minor Ball product Connor Caskenette batted .328 while starting at catcher for the PBL’s Mid Island Pirates. (Submitted)

Cowichan baseball players invaluable to Pirates’ success

Eight with Valley roots help Mid Island to PBL playoffs

The Premier Baseball League’s Mid Island Pirates might be based out of Nanaimo, but their success this year was firmly rooted in the Cowichan Valley.

No fewer than eight members of the Pirates’ 2018 squad were products of Duncan Minor Ball, helping Mid Island to a playoff berth with a 22-26 record, with bigger things on the horizon for the team and the individual players.

“Some of these guys are making waves in the PBL pool,” Mid Island co-coach Keith Radix said. “They’ve really contributed to the season we’ve had.”

Members of the Cowichan crew collected some of the Pirates’ top awards this season: Jackson Stephen was named team MVP, Connor Caskenette was the team’s top hitter, and Josh Hill was the top pitcher.

Stephen was the Pirates’ starting centre fielder, and hit .327, second on the team behind Caskenette, with 16 RBIs. He also pitched 38.1 innings, including five starts, and finished 2-4 with 24 strikeouts. One of the prime measures of success in the PBL is how many U.S. colleges are following a player online with the possibility of offering him a scholarship, and at last report, Stephen had 35 schools monitoring his progress.

Caskenette started at catcher for Mid Island this summer, and his .328 average was good enough for sixth in the league, while he added 18 RBIs. He was selected for Team BC at the Canada Cup tournament in Moncton on Aug. 8-12, where one of his teammates will be fellow Duncan product and Victoria Eagles pitcher Gavin Pringle, and after that he will head to the Northwest Nike MLB Showcase in Hillsboro, Oregon on Aug. 14-16. Caskenette has 31 Div. 1 schools following him, and that number is certain to increase.

“He’s poised to do really, really well,” said Radix, noting that Caskenette is a contender for the PBL awards for rookie of the year, top offensive player and first-team all-conference. “He was our top hitter this year, and he’s in Grade 10 going into Grade 11, so he’s a year younger than everyone else.”

Hill led the PBL in complete games with nine, and in innings pitched with 88. His 17 games included 13 starts, six wins, a 3.18 ERA and 49 strikeouts. He also hit .273 in 77 at-bats. He’s a contender for the PBL’s pitching award, and has 35 U.S. schools following his progress.

“He’s one of the kids who’s a shining star that comes down from the Duncan area,” Radix said.

A senior this year, pitcher Cole Anderson ran into injury issues that limited how much he could play, but didn’t deter U.S. colleges from showing interest. He only played in 10 games, and went 2-4 in seven starts, but struck out 25 batters over 30 innings. Anderson has 49 schools following him, and his recruitment video has well over 3,000 views.

“There’s an awful lot of interest from schools down below.”

Anderson, Radix noted, has a good fastball and curveball, but his changeup is his killer.

“He makes hitters miss by six to 12 inches,” Radix said.

Formerly a third baseman, Brodie Deverill converted to first this year, and hit .222 while getting used to the new level of play. A rookie this year, Deverill already has 44 schools following his progress.

“He’s solid defensively,” Radix pointed out. “He’s learning to adjust to Premier pitching.”

Second baseman Odhan Manhas was in Grade 12 this year, but is eligible for an over-age year because of when his birthday falls.

“He has the option to return to the PBL for next year or sign [in college] right now,” Radix explained.

That over-age year could see Manhas get better numbers, and better offers from the 42 schools following him. Also playing solid defence, Manhas hit .293 this summer.

“He had a really good season,” Radix said. “He locked down second base for us.”

Marcus Steen was Mid Island’s starting shortstop and top defensive player this year, and was named an alternate for the Canada Cup team. A Grade 11 player, Steen hit .258 this year and has 42 schools following him.

Another first-year player, Mackinnon Homeniuk started in right field and pitched for the Pirates this year, playing strong defence and displaying what Radix calls “a cannon of an arm.” He’s also motivated, dedicated, coachable, and 27 schools have taken notice. Homeniuk weighs in at about 130 pounds, Radix said, but his size 13 feet suggest that will change.

“He’s gonna grow,” the coach said.

All the Cowichan products except Anderson are eligible to return next year, and will be a big part of the team going forward, according to Radix.

“This year was a good experience year for them to learn the PBL,” he said. “They’ve all gone through it and learned a lot from it.”

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