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Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)

July 9, 2016, Victoria, BC (ISN) – The Victoria HarbourCats started the second half of their season in fine form Saturday night, earning a tight 3-1 win over the 2015 West Coast League (WCL) Champion Bend Elks in front of 1,903 fans at Royal Athletic Park (RAP) in Victoria.

Joe Prior (8) is congratulated by Griffen Andreychuk after Prior’s first inning home-run gave the HarbourCats a 2-0 lead (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The win moves the HarbourCats record to 24-4 overall after they closed out the first-half of the season with a sweep of Cowlitz on the road this past week and keeps them a perfect 16-0 for home games played at RAP.

The game was a great match-up between last year’s defending WCL champions – the Elks feature 12 returning players from that team – and the up-and-coming HarbourCats, who scorched through the first half of the schedule, setting a new WCL consecutive win record of 19 games in the process.

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Joe Prior watches his first inning homer head toward the left-field fence (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

The majority of runs in this game were scored early on, as Joe Prior would get things going for the Victoria offence in the bottom of the first, launching the first pitch he saw from Bend starter Riley Newman over the left field fence, scoring Griffin Andreychuk (single) and giving Victoria a quick 2-0 lead.

Victoria starter Will McAffer, who gave up a pair of harmless singles in the first, would get himself into some trouble in the second, giving up a single and three walks, including a bases loaded walk to George Mendoza that scored Jared Gonzales, cutting the lead to 2-1.

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Griffen Andreychuck slides safely into third base during first inning action Saturday (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

McAffer would bear down however to strike out three in the inning to get out of the jam, but that would be the end of his night and the ‘Cats turned to Blake Hannah to start the third.

Hannah and Newman would then settle in for their own little pitcher’s duel, keeping their respective opponents scoreless, through to the eighth inning, with Newman being the beneficiary of three double-plays by his defence, as well as a couple of HarbourCats base-running gaffs that cost Victoria a couple of outs at second base. Hannah was also helped by a great diving catch by HarbourCats right fielder Cody Snider in the top of the fifth.

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Blake Hannah pitched five innings of scoreless relief on Saturday to pick up the win in relief (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Victoria sent Greg Casper to the hill for the eighth and after he would retire the side in order, the ‘Cats would grab some insurance off Newman in the bottom half when PJ Floyd was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game, stole second and came in to score on an RBI-single by Jarron Silva, giving Victoria a 3-1 lead heading to the ninth.

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Griffen Andreychuk would have three hits on Saturday to help the HarbourCats offence (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

In the top of the ninth, After a one-out walk to Gonzales and a passed ball that moved him to second, Casper would strike out Jack Strunc and then pinch-hitter Elliot Willy to end the game and keep the HarbourCats undefeated at home.

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Bend second baseman Jack Strunk (2) and HarbourCats baserunner Dakota Dean both appeal their case to umpire Phil Borgeois (left), who would call Dean out after he slipped off the bag at second on this steal attempt (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

Blake Hannah, with five innings of one-hit, scoreless relief, gets the win, while Casper earns the save. Bend’s Newman takes the loss, going eight full innings and giving up the three runs on eight hits, one walk, while striking out six.

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The Bend Elks and second baseman Jack Strunc turned three double plays Saturday  to keep the game tight (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / ISN)

In addition to Prior’s big blast, the ‘Cats were led offensively by Andreychuk with three hits, while Stone added a pair. Snider also added a double. For Bend, Tommy Lane led the way with two hits.

The HarbourCats and Bend continue their series with a 1:00 PM matinee affair on Sunday, followed by a 6:35 pm game Monday night to round out the three-game set.