Prospects Win, So They're In!

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Prospects Win, So They're In!
By John Short

A magnificent pitching performance by reliever Zac Harrington and an extension of their recent offensive firepower has carried the Edmonton Prospects to the Western Canadian Baseball League Playoffs.

Edmonton whipped the Brooks Bombers 12-7 at RE/MAX Field to clinch the vital berth – fourth place and the final playoff spot in the Western Division -- but the game was much closer and more intense than the score might indicate.

Edmonton needed the win because the Fort McMurray Giants could have created a tie for fourth place by sweeping their final series with the Yorkton Cardinals. Had a tie developed, the Giants would have qualified because of their edge in head-to-head play this year.

The Prospects found themselves with a 4-2 deficit in the first inning but rebounded to grab the lead on Pierce Blohowiak’s double to conclude a three-run second inning. Two more runs in the fourth stretched the Prospects’ lead to 7-4 and right-hander Harrington controlled the Bombers with a collection of well-placed curve balls and changes of pace from then until he was finally replaced in the eighth inning.

Harrington took the mound with the bases loaded and two out after starter Brendan Owens had been tattooed for six hits and the four first-inning runs. Lead-off hitter Josh McIntyre, the 10th Brooks batter of the inning, was retired on a 3-and-2 grounder to third, and Harrington extended his excellence through five innings in which he yielded only one hit, a two-out single to McIntyre in the fourth.

Trouble appeared, however, in the eighth inning. Batting as the home team because recent rains made it necessary for the Bombers to finish their season on the road, they found life again after Spencer Rankin drove a long lead-off homer beyond the left field fence. Head coach Jordan Blundell and pitching coach Austin Guzzo moved immediately to put Scott Gillespie on the mound.

He did not last long. Two walks and an error, combined with Brock Partain’s sharp single, forced another pitch and David Wylie came through with his third consecutive late-inning rescue effort.

The victory was Edmonton’s seventh in succession, a franchise record. Included in the streak were two victories over the Yorkton Cardinals on Saturday and another vs Brooks that evening in an unprecedented three-game sweep. The Cardinals were vanquished in games that started about noon and 3 p.m. In the final meeting, Brooks also was defeated.

In the six games completed Saturday through Monday, Edmonton accounted for 61 runs and surrendered 29. Two regular members of the pitching staff, Jesse Poniewozik and Austin Cannedy, were unavailable: Poniewozik is recovering after suffering a concussion when hit in the head by a line drive and Cannedy returned to his California home a day or two ago.

Coach Blundell described a move like Cannedy’s as “not really unusual at this time of year; a lot of kids go home to get ready for school again.”

Fortunately for the Prospects, who face the first-place Okotoks Dawgs in a best-of-three series that opens Thursday in the Calgary suburb, Harrington and a few others who saw limited action early in the season have been willing to stay around.

“This team has been pretty close-knit, from early on,” Blundell said. “A little more team-building developed as we came out of the All-Star break.

“For a good part of the year, our offence was inconsistent, but the hitters have buckled down and are working through a lot more good at-bats right now.”

So many innings were played in the last several games that Blundell conceded he has “no idea” who will start the Thursday opener in Okotoks. “We’ll have somebody and he’ll give us all we can ask for,” he concluded.

If no further weather complications get in the way, the second game of the series will be played at RE/MAX Field on Friday night and the clincher in Okotoks on Saturday.