Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
June 30, 2016, Victoria, BC (ISN) – It has been a magical West Coast League (WCL) season so far for the Victoria HarbourCats and that magic continued at Royal Athletic Park (RAP) on Thursday, as the HarbourCats rolled to an unprecedented 18th win in a row with a 9-1 win over the Kelowna Falcons. The win clinched the first-half North Division title for the HarbourCats, putting them into the playoffs for the first time in their four-year history.
The Victoria HarbourCats celebrate on-field after their North Division clinching 9-1 win over Kelowna on Thursday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
If that weren’t enough, in addition to clinching the title and adding to their WCL record now 18-game winning streak, the HarbourCats set another WCL record on Thursday, as 5,133 fans – the largest crowd in WCL history – spilled through the gates at RAP to enjoy the action and then take in a 18-minute Canada Day fireworks show after the game.
Pitching in front of a crowd of 5,133 that spilled well into the right-field grandstand, Victoria’s Will McAffer went on to his fourth win of the season (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The teams were locked into a great pitching and defensive battle early, as HarbourCats starter Will McAffer and Kelowna starter Blake Randazzo both put up goose eggs over the first three innings, with both pitchers getting some great assistance from their defence, most notably when Kelowna’s Michael Cianco, who led off the third with a walk, was gunned down at third base on a great throw from Victoria first baseman Ben Polshuk, when Cianco was trying to go from first to third on a wild pickoff throw.
Victoria third baseman Brad Pluschkell (left) puts the tag on Kelowna’s Michael Cianco (right) just before Cianco reaches the bag on this play in the third inning (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
In the fourth, after McAffer eased through the top of the inning with a harmless lead-off walk, the HarbourCats would get on the board when the aforementioned Polshuk would crush the first pitch he saw from Randazzo over the left field fence for his fourth home run of the season, scoring Austin Guibor (fielder’s choice) in the process.
The HarbourCats used the double-play to their advantage Thursday with shortstop Cameron Cannon turning the play here on a sliding Brendt Sitta (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The ‘Cats would add to that 2-0 lead with a single run in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to an RBI-single from Brad Pluschkell that scored Joe Prior, who led off with the inning with a single, his third hit of the game.
McAffer, who would complete five shut-out innings, giving up three hits and four walks, would be replaced by Cameron Schneider and after he cruised through the sixth in order, Kelowna would cut the lead to 3-1 in the seventh when Cianco got to Schneider with a solo home run that just cleared the left field fence.
The Falcons also used some good defence as here second baseman Lane Lacrone turns the double play (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
As they have done all year when the opposing team scores, the HarbourCats responded immediately, this time in explosive fashion, scoring six runs off the Kelowna bullpen to put the game away. The big blow in the inning came from the HarbourCats Cody Snider, whose two-out, bases-loaded triple scored three runs to put the ‘Cats up 9-1. Griffin Andreychuk and Jarron Silva also scored earlier in the frame.
Victoria reliever Cameron Schneider was golden Thursday, giving up just one hit, a solo home run, and retiring the final eight batters in a row to close out the HarbourCats 9-1 win (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The game was then left in Schneider’s hands and making his first appearance on home soil, the big 6’7″ right-hander made the most of it, retiring the final six Kelowna batters to end the game, keep the win streak intact and start the Division clinching on-field and clubhouse celebration.
HarbourCats Head Coach Graig Merrit has been calling all the right shots this season, as his club clinched their first ever playoff berth with their 18th win in a row (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
In addition to Snider’s (2 hits, triple, 3 RBIs) and Polshuk’s (2 hits, HR, 3 RBIs) heroics and Prior’s three hits, Pluschkell had a pair of hits and an RBI and has now had at least a hit in all 10 games he has played thus far this season. Austin Guibor also scored a pair of runs in the win.
Victoria’s Blake Hannah high-fives some young fans as he heads back out on to the field to celebrate the win and get ready for the Canada Day fireworks (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
McAffer picks up his fourth win of the season, while Randazzo takes the loss, going six full innings and allowing three runs on eight hits, while walking two and striking out three. Schneider finished his four innings of relief, allowing just the solo home run, walking none and striking out three.
The HarbourCats celebrate their win with some good old-fashioned non-alcoholic sparkling cider (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)
The HarbourCats look to continue the magic and hope to secure wins number 19 and 20 in a row, when they and the Falcons continue their 4-game set with a doubleheader on Canada Day, July 1 at RAP with first pitch at 1:00pm. The HarbourCats will bat first as the road team in the second game of this single-admission doubleheader, which is a makeup game for a rainout earlier in the season in Kelowna. The all-Canadian series then wraps up on Saturday, July 2 at 6:35pm.