Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
Victoria, BC (ISN) – The Victoria Mariners made a successful home debut Saturday in their inaugural season of the BC Premier Baseball League (BCPBL) Bantam division, defeating the visiting Cascade Crush Orange of Washington state 11-8 at Layritz Park in Victoria.
Bantam Mariners pitcher Gabe Crozier throws the first home game pitch of the Mriners inaugural season in the Bantam Premier Baseball League (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The Crush would rebound for a 3-2 win in game two and following a pair of opening season losses at Whalley last weekend, the young Mariners early season record now stands at 1-3.
The Bantam BC Premier League came to fruititon late in 2015 and follows on the heels and the model of the successful Premier and Junior BCPBL and will now allow athletes in the Bantam age group (13-14) to train and compete with the very best in the province and enjoy the same level of experienced coaching, player development, and competition that players enjoy at the Junior Premier and Premier levels.
Mariners baserunnr Matteas Hamblin slides home in a cloud of dust and beats the tag of Cascade Crush catcher Kobe Sandstrom at this play at the plate in game one Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Players at the Bantam level will feed into and up to the teams at the Junior and Premier levels and this will allow organizations to provide consistency in coaching and development for their players from age 13 through 19. Players can also play up a maximum of five games with their Junior counterparts to further their development.
Along with the Mariners, there are seven other participating teams in the league in 2016 including five from the Mainland (North Shore Twins, Langley Blaze, Coquitlam Reds, Whalley Chiefs and Okanagan A’s) and two teams from Washington State (the Cascade Crush Orange and Cascade Crush Green).
Cascade Crush pitcher Carson Peters and his teammates are one of two Washington State teams participating in the BCPBL Bantam league this year (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Just like their Junior and Premier counterparts, the Bantam league will be a wood-bat league and teams will be busy, playing a 36-game league schedule, then playoffs and a Provincial championship, but with tournaments and the like thrown in, that number could push to as many as 75 games over the course of the year, an ambitious schedule to say the least for players at this age group.
Mariners baserunner Jaiden Schembri-Moss heads to third base during an early inning rally in game one Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Playing alongside the Provincial Bantam AAA league which enjoys success in many existing PBL communities, including Victoria with the Bantam AAA Black and Red Eagles, the Bantam BCPBL provides direct competition, in that where a PBL and AAA team exist at the Bantam level, those teams will be competing to capture and recruit top graduating Pee Wee players. At the same time however, it provides those Bantam age players looking to play baseball at the elite level with more options.
“For us it is all about development of these kids,” said Bantam Mariners Head Coach Matt Phillips prior to Saturday’s games. “It gets them into the junior and premier stream at an earlier level and in our case, gets them ready to play for Scott Smith [Junior Premier Head Coach] and Mike Chewpoy [Premier Head Coach]. All three of us, along with our assistants, try and do everything the same, preach the same concepts, values, methods, strategies, so that this give the kids some organizational consistency as they come up throught the system. We try and build the Mariner “family” and that’s what it’s all about for us.”
Speaking of the Mariners family, Phillips is being assisted this season by two former Mariners – Austin Russell and Michael Turcotte – who have now returned to Victoria from college and are giving back to their former organization.
A trio of former Premier Mariners (right to left) Head Coach Matt Phillips, Michael Turcotte and Austin Russell, are giving back to the organization and taking on the coacing duties of the Bantam Mariners team (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
On Saturday in game one, the up-and-coming Mariners looked good early, jumping into an 8-0 lead over the visiting Orange Crush by the end of three innings, but then some costly errors and timely hitting by the Crush cut the score to 8-4 before the Mariners responed with some late inning insurance runs and despite a four-run sixth by the Crush, held on for the 11-9 win.
Offensively for the Mariners, Daniel Sawchyn and Rhys Hill led the way with a pair of hits and three RBIs each, with two of Hill’s RBIs coming on a first inning triple. Liam Bonderoff had a single, sacrifice fly and scored three times, while Matteas Hamblin singled and scored a pair of runs.
The Mariners Danile Sawchyn was one of two Mariners with a two-hit, three-RBI performance in game one Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
Gabe Crozier got the start on the mound for the Mariners and he looked excellent early, shutting the Crush down for three innings with five strikeouts before finally giving up four runs in the fourth, his last inning of work. Mason Chamberlin followed with a one-two-three fifth and then got touched up for four in the sixth, while Joel Gagnon came on in the seventh to shut the Crush down and earn the save.
In game two on Sunday, the Crush started ace Matt Wilkinson and the young Canadian from White Rock, BC, who gained fame in 2015 by striking out 16 Team Mexico batters in five innings while playing for Canada at the Little League World Series, stayed true to his form and earned a tight 3-2 win by holding the Mariners hitless through 6 and 2/3 innings and striking out 13 before finally surrendering a two-out RBI hit to pinch-hitter Trevor Carter in the bottom of the seventh.
The Bantam Mariners showed off some good defence in game one Saturday with shortstop Liam Bonderoff here making a nice play on an ground ball (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
That run was the second the Mariners would score in the game, the first coming courtesy of a walk and some wild pitches in the second inning, and that would be all the Mariners would get as the Crush’s Jacob Kaepernick would shut things down after that to get the save.
For the Mariners on the mound, Aidan Heintz got the start and went four innings giving up two runs on four hits, while striking out four and walking just one. Jaiden Schembri-Moss pitched a scoreless fifth, while Brett Patterson pitched the final two innings, giving up a single run on two hits, while striking out one and walking three.
Reliever Joel Gagnon pitched the final inning of game one Saturday, earning a save in the Bantam Mariners first ever league win (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
While the Bantam PBL experience looks, at the early stages, to be a great fit for the Mariners and their organization, time will tell if all PBL franchises choose to follow suit and add a Bantam level team to their structure. Many teams, particularly those who already have a strong Bantam AAA feeder group for their Junior and Premier teams, may not have an interest in adding this extra level and others in smaller markets (e.g. Parksville, Nanaimo) may simply not have the draw or the budgets to be able to do so.
Some organizations may also have concerns that such an extra level will take too much away from the Bantam A and AA house levels, or that it may dilute the talent pool that is available to support both PBL and AAA Bantam level elite teams in one area.
The Mariners Trevor Carter, here batting in game one, was the only Mariner to get a hit off Crush pitcher Matt Wilkinson in game two Saturday, a 3-2 Cascade victory (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
In any case, for the Mariners, it is full steam ahead and all hands on deck, as they continue to navigate through what they hope will be a successful inaugural year in the Bantam BCPBL.
The Mariners continue their homestand with the Crush on Sunday with another pair of games at Layritz Park beginning at 11:00 am and then host the North Shore Twins at Layritz for four games, two each on Saturday May 14th (1:00 pm and 3:30 pm) and Sunday May 15th (11:00 am and 1:30 pm).
For more details on the Bantam Premier Mariners, visit their website at http://victoriamariners.pointstreaksites.com/view/victoriamariners/bantam-inaugural-season
Follow Christian J. Stewart on Twitter at @cjs_photography and on the web at http://christianjstewart.zenfolio.com