Three Crofton players made a big impact on a phenomenally successful season, as the Cowichan Valley Mustangs ended up as the second-best U15 AA baseball team in all of Western Canada.
Dawson Bell, Laine Hogstead and Jace Hamm were members of a Mustangs team that went 27-1 in league play on the Island before hitting the tournament circuit and achieving even more success.
The Mustangs had to pick up five players from the Prince George team they defeated to earn the right to compete at the Western Canada Championships, just to make the 15-player minimum for the Western tournament. Prior to adding the quintet, the Cowichan team was carrying just 10 players, and ended the season with 16 games in three weeks.
“We were running on fumes, and we came up a hair short,” Cowichan head coach Trevor Bull said.
The Mustangs faced the Prince George Knights and lost in the finals of the B.C. Minor Provincials, but played them again in Chilliwack in the Baseball B.C. finals and came back from a 9-1 deficit to win it in the bottom of the seventh inning 10-9.
The Western Canada Championships took place in Strathmore, Alberta, but the same rainy weather that the Mustangs had dealt with in the previous weeks seemed to follow them from one B.C. championship in Prince George to another in Chilliwack and finally to the town just east of Calgary.
Playing as Team BC, the Mustangs opened the tournament on Aug. 16 against the Muenster Red Sox, who won the right to represent Saskatchewan, in a game that was interrupted with a rain delay. The Mustangs led 3-0 before the rain hit. Saskatchewan came back to score two runs right away when play resumed, but the Mustangs returned to form and won 12-2. Later the same day, they beat Team Manitoba, the Gladstone Lakers, 15-4.
In their lone game the following day, the Mustangs got past Team Alberta, the Castor Raiders, 13-11 in extra innings. The Cowichan club closed out round-robin play with a perfect record by defeating the host Strathmore Reds 17-12.
The top two teams in the round robin advanced straight to the final, setting up a rematch between the Mustangs and Team Alberta. The Mustangs trailed 1-0 by the third inning, but came back to lead 6-1 at one point before ultimately falling 8-7.
“We had a couple of runners threatening,” Bull recalled, “and a couple of baserunning errors that might have made a difference.”
Bull conceded that it might be a few years before the players realize what it means to be the No. 2 team in all of Western Canada, but he knows it will sink in one day.
“It’s one heck of an accomplishment,” he said.
MVPs were picked for each team in each game, and Prince George pickup Preston Weightman earned the honour twice, including the final. The Mustangs also got phenomenal pitching from Dylan Gage, who started the final and pitched five and two-thirds innings, while Hamm and Ben Shugar were also great all weekend.
“All the guys played well,” Bull said. “It was a good team effort throughout the tournament. I can’t help but be proud of what they accomplished.”
About half the players will move up a level next year, while the rest, including Gage, are expected to come back with the experience of playing in a Western Canada championship and provide a good foundation for next year’s team along with several from the Ladysmith peewee team that won its division at Westerns.
“The tale of the tape for me as a coach is that we will me back,” Bull said. “We’ll be making a push next year all over again. I think we’ve got a good shot to do it again next year.”
– with a file from Don Bodger, The Courier.