Down To The End At Last
By John Short

Little more than a week ago, the Edmonton Prospects faced a difficult task.

Some, in fact, might have seen it as impossible.

All Edmonton’s Western Canadian Baseball League team had to do was bounce back from a disappointing loss at Fort McMurray, return home to spacious RE/MAX Field and sweep every remaining game to give themselves a chance to qualify for Western Conference playoffs.

To put this as simply as possible, the Prospects fulfilled the dream – six consecutive wins, three over the Brooks Bandits and three over the Yorkton Cardinals, with the additional pressure of having to win these games in three days.

First came the wins over Yorkton and, finally, a pair of nine-inning victories over Brooks by Sunday scores of 15-5 and 8-4. Criticized often to this point in the season for inconsistency, the Prospects’ offensive mainstays outscored the opposition in the last five games by a combined 49-24. It’s worth repeating that three victories took place in a 12-hour stretch that started at 12 Noon on Sunday.

But it’s vital at this point to stay with reality: with one game remaining, Edmonton may still lose out.

The Prospects hold a two-game lead over Fort McMurray for the vital fourth playoff spot. If – yes, IF – they win their final game of the season Monday afternoon against the Bombers, they cannot be rooted out of post-season play.

The only chance for Fort McMurray is to sweep its final three games with Yorkton and have the Prospects lose its one remaining effort. Edmonton head coach Jordan Blundell confirmed Sunday that, in case of a tie, Fort McMurray’s edge in regular-season play will qualify the Giants for playoffs and the right to play the dominant Okotoks Dawgs in the opening best-of-three playoff series.

Perhaps it was a surprise that Brooks posed brief but serious threats in both ends of the Sunday doubleheader. An eight-run fourth inning erased a 3-3 tie in the opening 15-5 triumph and a stretch of five runs in three innings settled the 8-4 nightcap.

Taran Oulton and Trever Berg, two of Edmonton’s best starters, both struggled with control and pitch count but came way with the wins. Oulton, a disciplined left-hander, went the distance in the opener and Berg, nursing a one-run lead in the sixth inning, handed off to Matt Erikson, who earned the save by turning in his second top-level relief effort of the five-game marathon.

Hits by Edgar Harrell, Pierce Blohowiak, Travis Hunt and Jake Gehri, along with several bases on balls and one untimely error, provided the bulk of the clinching eight-run outburst in the opener.

Defence was a major part of the second-game victory. Blohowiak’s spectacular throw for a putout at home prevented Brooks from taking a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning. Utility infielder Katsu Takahashi made consecutive diving stops of hard-hit grounders to quell an earlier Brooks rally. He also chipped in the sacrifice fly that scored Harrell and put Edmonton ahead 4-3.

Then, almost immediately, the big offensive hitters went to work, knowing anything other than a victory would not be good enough

Today, weary after their incredible work load and knowing the pitching staff is barren of proven starters, the Prospects are focused on precisely the same reality. Game time is 2:05 p.m.

Prospects Control Their Own Destiny
By John Short

By sweeping one of the most confusing triple-headers imaginable on Saturday, the Edmonton Prospects settled into sole possession of fourth place in the Alberta division of the Western Canadian Baseball League and gained control of their own playoff destiny with three games remaining in the 2019 regular season.

Not only did the Prospects win three games between noon and 10 p.m., but they did it against two opponents, including a lengthy carryover of a game with the Yorkton Cardinals that was washed out by massive rains on Friday night.

Edmonton’s first victory – 11-2 over Yorkton – was no contest from the beginning. Then came a thrilling seventh-inning rally in the second game that led to a 9-8 victory also over the under-manned but gritty Cardinals. The climax was a 6-5 victory over the Brooks Bombers that ended when relief ace David Wylie protected the narrow margin in the ninth inning.

As the Prospects laboured through their hectic day, the Fort McMurray Giants rebounded from a pair of back-to-back losses against the Medicine Hat Mavericks with a 6-3 victory. Both the Giants and Prospects have three games remaining – Edmonton against Brooks and Fort McMurray against Yorkton. The Prospects boosted their record to within one game of .500 and now lead Fort McMurray by one full game.

If Edmonton increases its current four-game winning streak by going unbeaten through a Sunday doubleheader and a Holiday Monday afternoon single, the Giants will be unable to catch them.

But the stubborn performances by the opponents in games two and three Friday night left the clear possibility of a one-game playoff for the right to face the powerful, first-place Okotoks Dawgs in a best-of-three first-round playoff series.

Edmonton was not troubled in the opening game, which resumed at the bottom of the second inning with the bases loaded and nobody out. By the time the uprising ended, the Prospects had a 4-1 lead, which they expanded with three more runs in the third inning and four in the fourth.

The pitching beneficiary was Tanner Roundy, normally Edmonton’s regular centre fielder. He scattered eight hits and turned in a totally-welcome complete game on the mound. Jake Gehri, Zach Thomas and Travis Hunt contributed in a major way with two hits each.

Gehri and Hunt were even more prominent in the second game, which Yorkton led 7-2 as Edmonton came to bat in the fifth inning.

Hunt’s two-run homer provided a quick left for the Prospects and a wild stretch – two walks and a hit batsman – by reliever Mike Clapperton added a third run. A Cardinals error led to another Edmonton tally in the sixth, leaving the Prospects two runs behind in their last at-bats of the game. A walk to Thomas, a single by Greyson Barrett, another safety by Beaux Guilbeau and lengthy doubles by Hunt and Gehri chased pitcher Payton Harris and left the Prospects needing one more win for the sweep.

It also came with difficulty.

Edmonton starting pitcher Hunter Boyd was handed a three-run lead in the first inning but Brooks pecked away with a single ruin in the second inning and two in the fifth, aided by a costly error at first base. A single by Edgar Harrell and a walk to Pierce Blohowiak, plus a Bombers miscue in left field, gave the Prospects a two-run lead, which was eaten up one inning later.

A walk, two singles and an error on an attempted pick-off forced Edmonton to replace Boyd with Matt Erickson – one of three Yale Eli regulars on the team, including Blohowiak and Gehri. The impressive reliever struck out four of the next five batters – three in the eighth and earned the pitching victory when Tyler Maskill drove home Gehri with what proved the winning run in the bottom half of the frame.

Edmonton’s twin-bill with Brooks features a pair of seven-inning games, scheduled to start  at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

More Confusion
By John Short
The shocking late-season scheduling adjustments faced by the Edmonton Prospects grew even more complicated Friday night at RE/MAX Field. A pair of doubleheaders already were on the slate for this weekend but heavy rain interrupted a meeting between the Prospects and the Yorkton Cardinals in the second inning with the score tied 1-1.
As a result, the Prospects are scheduled for three games today, – yes, three games – starting at noon, with two more due on Sunday and one on Monday, the last official day of the 2019 season.
No firm information was available on the last time any Western Canadian Baseball League team played more than two games in one day. A second 7-inning game with Yorkton rivals will follow after a standard delay of perhaps a half-hour.
Next comes an almost-unbelievable step: the Brooks Bombers will take the field at 7pm in a separate gate – for another nine-inning game. Brooks and the Prospects will play two games on Sunday as well and one on Monday. Nasty weather has been the key element in these arrangements, including one Edmonton game that was wiped out early in the season due to smoke from forest fires in Northern Alberta.
Prospects managing partner Pat Cassidy confirmed these decisions following the deluge that lasted for more than an hour. All the tarps in place to protect the field were removed as quickly as possible but it was obvious to umpires and members of both the Yorkton and Edmonton organizations that there was no chance to get the field in condition for a game Friday night.
As the Prospects struggled to get the turf into playable shape, the Fort McMurray Giants were beaten 6-4 by the Medicine Hat Mavericks.
As a result, Edmonton and Fort McMurray are in a flat-footed tie for the fourth and last playoff spot in the WCBL’s Western Division. The Prospects have an edge in remaining games, but head coach Jordan Blundell has had to use several hurlers in vital recent situations and may find severe difficulty in finding starters for the remaining games on the Prospects schedule.

Race in WCBL Still Skin-Tight
By John Short

A brilliant relief outing by seldom-used left-hander Haden Dow provided the momentum Thursday night as the Edmonton Prospects, battling to stay alive in the Western Canadian Baseball League’s Western Division playoff race, downed the Yorkton Cardinals 12-6 before about 1,800 fans at RE/MAX Field.

Dow rescued starter Andrew Lowe after Yorkton struck for three runs in the third inning. Yorkton’s damage was done on safeties by Payton Harris, Tanner Huber and Phil Whelan and a fielder’s choice. Dow retired Mike Culpepper on a long fly to end the rally, then retired 10 consecutive Cardinal hitters. His personal highlight was consecutive fifth-inning strikeouts of Huber, Clayton Keyes and Matt Korman.

Finally, after Logan MacDougall was retired leading off in the seventh, hits by Hut Smith, Harris and Huber created another three-run Yorkton outburst as Dow’s weariness grew evident. It then became Zac Harrington’s turn to step in and the aggressive, hard-throwing right-hander quickly limited the damage.

Costly Prospects errors were committed by outfielder Tanner Roundy and second-baseman Zach Thomas, but both compensated for defensive flaws with major contributions offensively.

Thomas scored four runs and personally collected three doubles – half of the six collected by Edmonton in a 17-hit attack that also featured Travis Hunt’s three-run homer to left in the sixth inning. Roundy scored after a single and a stolen base in the third inning, then delivered a sacrifice bunt during a two-run outburst in the seventh.

Returning to the red-hot hitting pace he showed earlier in the season, Hunt also scored after a double in the first inning and drove in a run with a single in the fourth.

The Prospects victory was essential. They now sit one-half game behind the Fort McMurray Giants and have one game in hand on their rivals. The Medicine Hat Mavericks aided Edmonton by thumping Fort McMurray 10-0. The Giants created their slight edge by downing Edmonton three times in four games during the last week.

Nobody Said This Would Be Easy
By John Short

The Fort McMurray Giants got a solid offensive display and excellent starting pitching Wednesday night to defeat the Edmonton Prospects 11-2 and stretch their margin over Edmonton in the race for a Western Division playoff berth to 1.5 games as the Western Canadian Baseball League regular season enters its final week.

Nick Cardinal handled the mound chore neatly, surrendering only six hits and fanning nine in eight innings. Outfielder Travis Hunt whacked a fourth-inning homer for Edmonton’s first run and collected the last one in the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Jake Gehri.

Before Hunt connected, the Giants had registered a first-inning run on doubles by Rich Ortiz and Gunner Rainey against starting Prospects pitcher Austin Herrington, then struck for three more in the third on an Ortiz single following consecutive hits by Cam Sanderson, Max Ortiz and Brady Wood, who earned two runs-batted in for his sharp double.

Every Edmonton pitcher had trouble with the potent Fort McMurray lineup. Zac Herrington gave up four runs, three of them earned, in the sixth inning. By the time he was pulled by head coach Jordan Blundell, the game was clearly well in hand for the Giants, playing at home.

Edmonton tonight opens an essential three-game series at RE/MAX Field against the Yorkton Cardinals, who hold down sixth and last place in the WCBL’s Eastern Division. The Giants open a similar series with the capable Medicine Hat Mavericks. In their final scheduled tests, Fort McMurray faces Yorkton while the Prospects – who have one game in hand – close out against the Brooks Bombers.