A combination of powerful hitters and fast-learning pitchers propelled the Duncan RiverCats to first place at the provincial mosquito AAA baseball championships at Evans Park last weekend. The RiverCats blazed through the round robin, beating Tsawassen 13-3, Kelowna 15-0 and Cloverdale 16-3. "Our offence was on," head coach Bryn Battye said. "Our team is definitely a hitting team. It doesn’t matter if we start with our eighth hitter, we’re still getting hits."
In addition to that great offence, however, the RiverCats also boasted topnotch pitching that started with Ladysmith’s James Joyce.
When Joyce joined the team, he had already mastered the curveball, and his teammates saw the value in it and decided to learn it as well. By the end of the summer, another three or four pitchers had added the curve to their arsenals, while most of the RiverCats’ opponents had only fastballs to work with. The curveball became a vital weapon for the team’s success.
"At age 10 or 11, it doesn’t take much to throw [opposing hitters] off balance," Battye noted.
The host team’s only setback of the tournament came in an 8-3 loss to North Delta – a team they would get another crack at later on.
"We didn’t have a great game against them," Battye admitted. "They had a pitcher who just threw off-speed stuff, and we were used to seeing fastballs all year."
The RiverCats were tied with North Delta and Tsawssen after the round robin, but tiebreaker rules determined Duncan and North Delta would head to the playoffs, with the RiverCats facing Prince George. After the Duncan coaches consulted with their colleagues from Oceanside, who had played in the other pool, Joyce started for the RiverCats in the provincial championship against Prince George. Prince George had been tearing it up in pool play, but didn’t have an answer for Joyce.
"The other team couldn’t hit him at all," Battye said. "Our offence was on, but Prince George couldn’t do anything with that curveball."
Meanwhile, North Delta was beating Oceanside in the other semifinal, eliminating the prospect of an all-Island final while setting up a rematch from the round robin.
Thanks to their offensive explosions in the round robin, the RiverCats still had most of their pitchers available for the final, and they went with curveballer Linden Williams to start. Williams held North Delta to a single run through four innings, while his teammates racked up eight runs. Battye was cautious about sending Williams out for a fifth inning on such a hot day, but Williams felt he could handle it. Unfortunately, North Delta got their bats going, and managed to tie the score. Battye sent in fireballer Arjan Manhas to relieve Williams, and after one batter, Joran Branting, another master of the curveball, went in to finish the inning.
When the RiverCats won the pre-game coin-toss to determine the home team, Battye had opted to take the visiting dugout, an unusual choice but one that he made with his team’s offensive prowess in mind.
"I wanted to be able to score and get them behind before they even got up to bat," he explained.
The RiverCats started the sixth and final inning near the top of the order, and were loading the bases right away as they built a 13-8 lead. Branting returned to the mound for the bottom of the sixth and took down the side in order with a ground ball to Gavin Foss at third, a pop fly to Nathan Tiemer at first, and another grounder to Caleb Battye at second, who threw to first for the final out.
The team had never lost hope of taking the title.
"When we were up 8-1 in that game, they were confident, but when North Delta came back and made it 8-8, I didn’t see anyone hanging their heads," a proud coach Battye said.
The championship was the culmination of a summer of hard work by the young players.
"We practiced two times a week, guaranteed, and three times a week lots of times," Battye related. "And we’d play three or four games a week as well. They got lots of baseball. The team was put together on June 23, and in that month and two weeks, they probably had 24 games, and just as much practicing. The players put all the work in; they knew what they had to do, especially with the pitchers learning new pitches."
Battye also coached last year’s provincial championship team, which included Caleb Battye and Nathan Tiemer, and also beat North Delta in the final. He was grateful to those second-year players in the lineup.
"Their role as second-year players was a lot bigger, and they took to it," the coach said.
Most of this year’s champions will move on to peewee for next year, but twins Brendon and Anthony Wilson will be back to take another crack at the mosquito title, and they will have the roles that Tiemer and Caleb Battye filled this year.
"Next year, they’ll be the top players on that team," coach Battye said.