With just three weeks left to go in the regular season, the White Rock Tritons have their eyes focused squarely on the BC Premier Baseball League playoffs.
And not only that – they’d like to gain home-field advantage, too.
While a playoff spot seems likely – with 13 games left, the under-18 team sits sixth out of 12 teams, and has a healthy gap between themselves and the first non-playoff position – earning the right to host the first round of playoffs may prove to be more difficult.
Head coach Kyle Dhanani figured his group would need to win “probably 10 of the 13” in order to vault into the PBL’s top four.
“If we do that, I think we’ll have a chance,” he said of his club, which sports an 18-13 win-loss record. “We can’t really worry about other teams. We’re just trying to take care of our own business.”
Such a winning streak would be a tough task for nearly any team in the league, but the Tritons have already proven this season they’re more than capable of getting hot for long stretches; at the start of the year they won five straight and eight of 11.
“Making the playoffs is good, but we’d like to aim higher, and have higher goals,” Dhanani said of the home-field quest.
“A lot of these younger guys we have this year, they’ve come up the ranks winning – they’ve won in Little League or at the bantam level, and some guys have been to the (Little League) World Series… They expect to win every game.”
Regardless of how the next three weeks play out, the Semiahmoo Peninsula squad has put themselves in a good position after a successful last two weekends versus Victoria opponents. Two weekends back, the Tritons swept a two-game series against the Victoria Eagles, and last weekend at South Surrey Athletic Park, split a two-game set with the third-place Mariners, who’ve only lost eight games all season.
The first game, played Saturday morning, was a low-scoring 2-0 affair won by the home team, but the visitors rebounded in the second game, winning 8-4.
Pitcher Tate Dearing was the star of the shutout victory in the early tilt, as the Surrey native – and member of Canada’s junior national program – struck out eight batters over six-and-one-thirds innings, allowing no runs on just three base hit, all of which were singles.
Brogan McDougal picked up the save for White Rock after getting the final two outs of the game, including one by strikeout.
The strong performance came at a perfect time, too, Dhanani noted, since Victoria’s pitcher was equally strong.
“It was a really solid performance from Tate, and we needed it. We only had a few chances ourselves to score, so he really kept us in it,” the first-year coach said. “Their pitcher really kept us off balance.”
Right-fielder Cole Walter provided all the offence that the Tritons needed to earn the win. With two outs in the first inning, he hit a single that scored John Vulcano from third, and in the sixth inning, his groundout to the pitcher plated the team’s second run.
Walter also had a stolen base, giving him a team-best 16 on the season. He’s been caught stealing just once in 31 games.
As opposed to the pitching duel in Game 1, the second half of the doubleheader was more of a slugfest. The Mariners plated five runs in the top of the first inning to take a commanding early lead, and led 7-1 after five innings until White Rock scored a few late runs to make it closer.
Trailing 5-0 in the second, White Rock had the briefest of momentum swings courtesy of an Adam Van den Brink solo home run – his second homer of the year – but the home team couldn’t build on it in an attempt to claw back to an even footing with the Mariners.
“We were down in a hole, so it did give us some momentum, but unfortunately, they came back and got a couple more (in the fifth),” Dhanani said.
Dhanani pointed out that, if the season were to end today, the Tritons and Mariners would face each other in the first round. Despite the M’s having lost just eight games this year, the two teams have split the seasons series evenly, with two wins apiece.
“And they haven’t seen a couple of our (top pitchers) yet,” he noted. “They have seen Allan (Hogg).”
White Rock’s charge towards the playoffs took another step Thursday, as the team was set to play the Langley Blaze after Peace Arch News‘ press deadline. This weekend, they host the Okanagan Athletics for four games at SSAP – two each on Saturday and Sunday.
The two teams’ haven’t yet played each other this year. The four-game series was originally scheduled for April, but was postponed due to rain.
“They struggled a bit at the beginning of the season, but they’ve been getting hot,” Dhanani said of this weekend’s opponent.
“They just won four in Nanaimo, so they probably have some pretty good momentum.”
Between now and the end of the season, White Rock also has four games on tap against another team they’ve yet to face – the North Delta Blue Jays. The two nearby rivals were originally set to play this weekend, but the games were pushed back in order to squeeze in the four games against the Athletics.