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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

May 3, 2014, Victoria, BC (ISN) – After streaking out of the gate with a 7-1 record to begin the season, the Victoria Black Eagles hit a bit of a speed bump Saturday, as they dropped a pair of games to the visiting Nanaimo Pirates by scores of 5-1 and 9-3 in BC Minor Baseball Bantam AAA league action at Carnarvon park in Victoria.

Nanaimo third baseman Gus Wilson stretches for an errant throw at third base, as the Eagles Chris Niketas scampers in safely during Game 1 action Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

While the Eagles perhaps did not play their best baseball of the season on the day, full credit has to be given to the scrappy Nanaimo squad, who came into the day with a 4-4 record and with upset on their mind. Stellar pitching and defence in both games, as well as timely hits were also key to the Nanaimo wins.

In Game 1 of the set, Eagles starting pitcher Liam Kruse and Nanaimo’s Nate Doleman were perfect through a scoreless three innings of work, with both pitchers facing the minimum nine batters over those innings. The only blemish on either side was a first inning single by the Eagles Chris Niketas, which was quickly erased when he was caught stealing.

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Nanaimo pitcher Nate Doleman (left) and Victoria pitcher Liam Kruse (right) were locked in a near perfect pitching duel through the first three innings of Game 1 on Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

In the top of the fourth inning, Doleman would take matters into his own hands to get things rolling for Nanaimo, as he would take a 2-0 pitch from Kruse over the left-centre fence for a solo home-run to put the Pirates up 1-0.

That would open the floodgates, as Dylan Kirby doubled, Gus Wilson singled and then a throwing error by the Eagles on Wilson’s hit allowed both Kirby and Wilson to come all the way around to score, putting Nanaimo up 3-0.

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Gus Wilson’s single would contribute to a three run third inning for the Pirates in Game 1 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

After Doleman cruised through another three-up, three-down bottom of the inning, the Pirates would add another run in the top of the fifth, as Aden Richardson would reach on a one-out single, eventually make his way to third and then score on a balk by Kruse to make it 4-0.

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Victoria’s Liam Kruse scampers to third after a base hit from Nate Postle in Game 1 Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

The Eagles would finally get to Doleman for a run in the bottom of the fifth when Colton O’Brien singled and eventually came around to score on a Pirates error. That would be as close as they would come however, as the Pirates would add an insurance run in the seventh, and Doleman would shut the door the rest of the way, allowing hits in the sixth to Kruse and Nate Postle (a double) and in the seventh to Niketas, his second of the game, but keeping the Eagles off the board, finishing with the complete game five-hit 5-1 win.

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Victoria’s Chris Niketas would continue to hit well, with a pair of singles in Game 1 and another in Game 2 Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

In Game 2 of the set, the Eagles Chris Niketas took to the mound and the visitors greeted him rudely, scoring six runs on six hits, in a nightmare (for the Eagles) start to the game.

Nate Doleman would get things started for the visitors with a leadoff double. Dylan Kirby was then hit by a pitch, Gus Wilson bunted his way on to load the bases, and after Jayden Marsh hit into a fielder’s choice for the first out, three singles in a row from Rabinder Dhut, Alex Stevens and Jordan Paterson pushed four runs across the plate to put the Pirates up early 4-0.

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Victoria catcher Jayden Wakeham waits patiently to tag out Nanaimo baserunner Alex Stevens in Game 2 action Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

The Pirates were not done however, Paterson would come in to score on an RBI single from Spencer Walton and Josh Laukkanen, who earlier reached on a fielder’s choice, would then come in to score from third on a wild pitch and the Pirates would have a 6-0 lead before they Eagles even came to bat.

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Nanaimo’s Spencer Walton would single home a run on this play in the first inning of Game 2 Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

The Pirates would send lefty Dhut to the mound and the Eagles would get one of those six runs back right away, as Colton O’Brien would reach on a fielder’s choice and eventually come around to score on an RBI groundout by Nick Downer.

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Nanaimo’s Rabinder Dhut would get the complete game win over the Eagles in Game 2 (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

The Eagles would continue to chip away at the Pirates lead again in the bottom of the third inning, when O’Brien would reach on a 2-out double and then score on an RBI-single from Niketas. Nick Downer would then single, advancing Niketas to third. As the play ended, the Nanaimo catcher, who thought he had called time, walked out to the mound to talk with Dhut, but time was not given and a heads up Niketas scampered home with the Eagles third run.

Speaking of Niketas, after his first inning jitters, he settled down nicely on the mound, retiring the Pirates in order in each of the second, third and fourth innings, striking out four in the process. His luck would run out again in the fifth however, as Doleman would bunt his way on to start the inning and then eventually come in to score on a sacrifice fly from Wilson.

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The Eagle’s Jayden Wakeham bids for a base hit in Game 2 Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

The Pirates would add two more in the sixth, thanks in part to a single from Stevens, his second of the game, and a 2-RBI single from Laukkanen, and their lead was extended to 9-3.

That would be as close as the Eagles would get as Dhut, after giving up those runs in the third, would cruise the rest of the way, giving up just three more hits over the final four innings to come away with the complete game 9-3 win.

Despite the losses, Eagles Head Coach Gautam Srivastava has been pleased with the 7-3 start for his team in 2014, “What I really like about our group is that they are improving every day. At the beginning of the year, I really didn’t like the product that we were putting on the field, but teaching them the finer points of the game has really helped, and they have come together really well.”

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Nanaimo second baseman Josh Laukkanen gets lost in a cloud of dust that emerged from his glove after catching a throw from a teammate in Game 2 Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Independent Sports News)

“I think we have a really good team,” added Srivastava. “What’s really stood out for me so far has been our pitching and our defence. It’s been a formula we have focused on at the Premier level the last few years and it’s been successful, so I am glad to see our younger teams subscribing to that as well.”

As to today’s games, Srivastava tipped his cap to Nanaimo, “They are a good hitting team, are coached well and they came out today wanting it more than we did. Doleman, their Game 1 starter, is their ace and one of the better pitchers in the league. It was probably good for our guys to see a guy like that at this point in the season so they know what it takes to win a game against him.”

“As to Game 2, when we’ve struggled this year it has been because of small mental lapses, ” added Srivastava. “It’s just a function of this age group and you know it will happen every now and then, except that when it does, things can start to snowball and lots of runs can be scored. But I think moving forward if we focus on limiting those lapses and continue to drill the kids on the finer points of the game, we will come out on top of the score more often than not.”

Despite the losses, the Black Eagles still sit in first in the West Division of the BC Minor Bantam AAA league, just ahead of 8-5 Richmond and the now 6-4 Pirates. The Eagles will have the opportunity to rectify their losses Saturday right away, as they will travel up-Island on Sunday to face the 1-7 North Island Royals. Game times are 12 Noon and 2:30 Pm at Seredick Park in Port Alberni.