The bantam AA Cowichan Valley Mustangs are at the provincial championships, hosted by Carnarvon in Victoria, from Thursday to Sunday this week. (Submitted)

The bantam AA Cowichan Valley Mustangs are at the provincial championships, hosted by Carnarvon in Victoria, from Thursday to Sunday this week. (Submitted)

Proof is in the pitching for bantam AA Mustangs

Top-notch rotation powers Cowichan Valley team to provincials

If the Cowichan Valley Mustangs make any noise at the provincial bantam AA baseball championships in Victoria this week, the men on the mound will be a major reason why.

According to head coach Bryn Battye, the pitching staff is the team’s strength.

“Our pitching is five or six deep,” he said. “Any other team would want our No.5 pitcher, and they’d have him as their two or three pitcher.”

A key member of the rotation, Daniel (Larry) Larson, starred on offence and defence in the game that sealed up a provincial berth for the Mustangs at the B.C. wildcard tournament a few weeks ago.

Cowichan just missed out on one of the two Island seeds at provincials, but still qualified for the 10-team wildcard tourney, where two more spots were up for grabs.

The Mustangs went 3-0 to start pool play, locking up a spot in the semifinals before they even played their fourth round-robin contest. That set up a showdown with Cloverdale for one of the two wildcard berths, which Cowichan won 9-5.

Larson pitched into the seventh inning against Cloverdale before Kyler Hewitt came in to make the last two outs. The teams traded runs in the early going before Larson took control and gave his team’s bats a chance to pull ahead.

“We kept matching them,” Battye said. “Then Larry shut them down for a bit.”

The Mustangs generated seven hits against Cloverdale, all from the top three batters in the order. Larson got on base every time he went to the plate, and scored three times. Caleb Battye also reached on every appearance, and finished with four runs and four RBIs, and No.3 batter Mitchell Billings had two hits and knocked in three runs.

“After that, nobody got a hit off their pitcher,” Bryn Battye pointed out. “If we’re going to do anything else, the bottom half is going to have to start hitting the ball.”

The bottom of the order did chip in offensively by getting on base a few times, setting the plate for Caleb Battye’s RBI heroics.

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Battye is confident his team can get into the medal round at provincials, although a lot of things will have to go right for the Mustangs.

“There is a path to the semifinals for us,” he said.

Cowichan opened on Thursday against a North Island Royals team they haven’t been able to beat this year, although every game has been close. After that, they face host team Carnarvon, followed by Burnaby — the top team in the bantam AA league this season — and then the Vancouver Expos. If the bounces go the Mustangs’ way, a 3-1 record, good enough to make the semis, could be in the cards.

“It’s doable,” Battye said. “It’s not like we can’t beat North Island. We’re a different team now.”

Things have gone well for the Mustangs since they finished second to the Royals at North Island’s own Royals Rumble tournament at the beginning of July.

“That’s when the season turned around,” Battye noted. “From then on, we went 12-2. Before that, we were sub-.500. The kids just started to get it; they started to hit, started to field their positions better.”

The team is loaded with first-year bantams, and Battye doesn’t think they’ve even come close to meeting their potential.

“They haven’t peaked yet,” the coach said. “There’s still a lot of room for improvement.”

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