When the White Rock Tritons walk onto the field Saturday to begin the BC Premier Baseball League season, they’ll be looking to take the first step toward playoff success that has mostly evaded their grasp for the better part of the last decade.
The under-18 baseball team missed the playoffs last season, and were swept 2-0 in a best-of-three first-round series in 2017. Going back even further, the team has been hit or miss with regard to the post-season – in one year, out the next – and according to the BCPBL website, has not won a playoff game since 2009.
Last summer, however, they did win a Baseball BC midget provincial championship and play at nationals in Fort McMurray, Alta.
This year, with team made up primarily of Grade 11 players who have made the leap from the U16 Junior Tritons, they’ll be aiming to improve upon last season’s 16-32 win-loss record, which saw them sit 11th in the 13-team league.
“Even though we are maybe a little bit young, we’re a confident group and we will be a competitive team every game, every pitch,” said Tritons head coach Kyle Dhanani, who is back at the helm of the U18 crew after spending last summer coaching the juniors.
“These guys want to win, and know what it takes, and I think they’re going to do the little things they need to achieve that goal.”
Mike Hughes coached last year’s team, and though this year’s roster is young, there are still a handful of returning players from Hughes’ squad last year, including pitcher Noah Bryerton, infielders Ryan Dauphinee and Matt Rachman and outfielder/pitcher Corbin Smith.
“Our core group of seniors… they’ve been with the (White Rock) program since they were little, so we know they’re going to lead our guys,” Dhanani said, adding that the returning veterans did a good job leading various team-building activities in the offseason, including during a March trip to Tucson which saw the team warm up for the season by playing nine games against Arizona junior college teams.
“We have good chemistry with this group. We made an effort this offseason to have sessions and workouts where it’s a mix of younger and older players, so the guys on all the teams can know each other by first name. It just makes the whole organization a little bit tighter.”
Taking an organization-wide approach – between the U18s, the juniors and the bantam Tritons – is more of a priority for Dhanani than ever, as he adds general manager duties to his job title. In recent years, Marty Lehn has served as the organization’s GM, and while he is still heavily involved with the club, the GM gig has been transferred to Dhanani.
“Just a little bit more responsibility,” Dhanani said of the new dual role.
Bryerton, who is set to be the team’s opening day starter Saturday, was especially excited to begin the season, and echoed his coach’s thoughts on the team’s competitive nature.
“Our team is going to be able to compete with any team in this league. I love the fight that this team has, we could be down five runs yet still have the will not to give up and come back from it,” he said.
On the field, the coach expects the strength of the Tritons senior team is in the versatility of the players. Rather than have a handful of players able to play just one position on the field, Dhanani and his assistant coaches will have plenty of options this season when it comes to lineup construction as well as in-game decisions.
“We’ve got guys who can play a lot of different positions, they can pitch, they can hit. We’ve got some guys who can bunt, and most of our lineup can control the bat well enough that we can hit-and-run and hit behind runners, and do some different things on the bases,” he explained.
While finding some success this season is important – Dhanani said finishing in a top-eight, playoff position is definitely an attainable goal – the coach also knows that the experienced gained this season will only serve to boost the team next year, when players will be in their senior years.
“We’re not looking too far ahead, but it’s in the back of our minds. We just want to get the guys some good experience this year, some playing time, so… by next year, we’ll have a good core group that has experienced a lot.”
For Rachman, Dauphinee and the other veterans who are in their last year in the Tritons program, there is a sense of urgency with regard to getting the team back into the playoffs.
“I’m really excited for this year as it’s the last one I’ll ever get to play in a Tritons uniform,” Rachman said.
“I’ve been blessed to play with most of these guys for my entire baseball career so far, and it’s going to be exciting to see what we can pull off this year.
Whether discussing this coming season or further into the future, Dhanani said he hopes his players keep focused on the most important things – continuing to improve, and enjoying the game.
“We try to make sure they don’t lose sight of what they’re doing, and that’s getting to play the game of baseball at a really high level,” he said. “Yes, there’s scholarships on the line and (scouts) watching some games, but you don’t want the guys to stress about it – the main thing is you’ve just got to go out there and have fun.
“If you put in the hours, good things are going to come.”
White Rock plays its first two games of the season against the North Delta Blue Jays Saturday afternoon at South Surrey Athletic Park. Game 1 begins at 1 p.m., and the second game of the doubleheader goes at 3:30 p.m. On Sunday, the Tritons will host the Victoria Eagles for two games at SSAP, also at 1 and 3:30 p.m.
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