RiverCats tops at mosquito AAA tournament

"Once you're at provincials, anything can happen."

Bryn Battye had coached Duncan teams to back-to-back mosquito AAA Tier II provincial champions in the two previous seasons, but even though his RiverCats had blasted their opponents to smithereens in the zones a week before, he was still nervous as he prepared for the B.C. tournament in Victoria last weekend.

“Once you’re at provincials, anything can happen,” he said.

It turned out that Battye had nothing to worry about, as the RiverCats claimed yet another mosquito AAA title for Duncan.

The RiverCats went 3-1 in the round robin, beginning by beating Cloverdale 13-6 last Friday morning, then edging North Delta 3-2 in a true pitchers’ duel that afternoon. On Saturday morning, they defeated Abbotsford 13-5, and that afternoon they suffered their first loss, 8-5 at the hands of a Campbell River team they beat at the zone tournament, but knew could be dangerous. It didn’t help that the RiverCats weren’t hitting to the best of their abilities in the early games.

“Our bats were a little bit off in the round robin,” Battye admitted.

Even though the round robin went largely as they expected it to go, the RiverCats were on pins and needles once they were done playing. If they wanted to go on to the semifinals, they needed Campbell River to beat North Delta, or if North Delta were to win, for a certain number of runs to be scored.

Rather than watch, Battye went home to Duncan and let his assistant coaches fill him in by text message.

When Campbell River went ahead 10-1 early on, Battye was able to breathe a sigh of relief. Even if North Delta came back to win, the amount of runs favoured Duncan. Campbell River held on for the victory and advanced with a 4-0 record, while the RiverCats were second in the pool at 3-1, leaving North Delta out of the picture at 2-2.

“Those were the top three teams in the province, in my estimation,” said Battye, who had seen North Delta at the last two provincial finals. Unfortunately, with Victoria hosting, the pools were thrown into disarray and one of those top teams had to miss the playoff round.

“Somebody was going home,” Battye said. “I kind of knew we were going to have to go 4-0 to make the semifinals.”

By placing second in their division, the RiverCats advanced to a Sunday morning semifinal against Victoria, a team Duncan had defeated 14-0 at the zone tournament. Victoria wasn’t going to go quietly this time, and the score was tied at 1-1 going into the fifth inning.

In the fifth, Brendan Wilson got on base, and Dylan Battye was sent to the plate to bunt him to second. Battye got the bunt down, but thanks to a fielding mixup by Victoria, Wilson made it to third and Battye was safe at second with none out. That, said the coach, was the “TSN Turning Point.”

Brandon LeBlanc brought them both home with a double to the fence. Two runs after that, they reached the maximum for the inning. Wilson finished up the complete game, and the game ended 6-1 in favour of the RiverCats, who advanced to the final.

“Any time a kid can pitch a complete game at this level, that signifies a good game,” Battye said.

The RiverCats almost got another complete game in the final, a 13-10 win over Tsawassen. Curtis Atcheson came in with a foot injury, and as a result batted lower in the order than Battye would have preferred, but still managed to get the first 20 outs from the mound. Anthony Wilson came in for the 21st and needed just one pitch to induce a grounder to first for the final out and the championship.

The grounder to first was something the coaches had prepared the players for by relating the story of Bill Buckner, Mookie Wilson and Game Six of the 1986 World Series.

“We told them to get in front of the ball,” Battye said. “Don’t let that be your legacy. Dive for the ball.”

Going into the provincial tournament, Battye had raved about his team’s hitting and pitching, but it was defence that won the championship.

“I don’t think any team had a better defence than us,” he said.