BCJPBL Championship Wrap-Up
Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart
August 30, 2021, Surrey, BC – The UBC Thunder captured their first ever BC Junior Premier Baseball League championship on Sunday afternoon, defeating the host Whalley Chiefs 10-1 on a beautiful day at Whalley Athletic Park in Surrey.
The Thunder broke open a tense, scoreless tie by scoring eight runs in the bottom of the fourth inning and cruised from there, using a solid defence and great pitching to keep Whalley batters at bay and to shut down any potential threats before they got started.
Lucas Soper got the start in the final and while he was not 100% perfect, his defence picked him up early, including a perfect throw to the plate to nail a Chiefs baserunner trying to score and he got some clutch outs himself that kept the game scoreless into the fourth.
When he faltered later in the game, reliever Jaron Palaschuk stepped in to get out of an initial jam and then went the rest of the way to get the final out and begin the celebration.
The Thunder, who finished the regular season with one of the best records in the BCJPBL (21-15), had a bit of a scare en route to the finals, winning a pair of close and tense games in the round robin portion of their tournament Friday, including a 3-1 win over the White Rock Tritons and then holding on to defeat a pesky Victoria Eagles team 3-2.
That was enough to earn them a first place seed and a re-match with White Rock on Saturday in the ultimate play-in game in their pool. White Rock, who had beaten the Eagles 12-9 Friday, earned the re-match by beating the Eagles again Saturday, this time by a close 5-3 score.
In the play-in game, the Thunder dominated, cruising to a fast 7-0 win and moving them into Sunday’s semi-finals against the North Shore Twins.
The Twins earned their way into the semis thanks to a pair of nail-biting round robin wins over the Victoria Mariners (5-4) and the Chiefs (7-6). They would not have the same luck against the Thunder however, as UBC would score runs in each of the first four innings and cruise to a relatively easy, 13-hit 7-4 win.
Relatively easy because starter Freddie Sale went the distance and kept the Twins at bay, allowing the four runs on just seven hits while striking out three.
For the Chiefs, their route to the finals, was straightforward because as hosts, they had a bye to the semi-finals. They did play spoilers early though, defeating the always strong Langley Blaze 6-4 on Friday – a loss that combined with the Blaze’s 4-3 loss to the Mariners knocked them out of contention – before dropping the 7-6 decision to the Twins and an 8-3 decision to the Mariners.
In the semis, the Chiefs met up with the surprising Mid-Island Pirates (16-20 in the regular season), who in perhaps the biggest upset of the tournament, defeated the (26-8) Coquitlam Reds 3-0 Saturday night in the deciding game of the Pool B round robin to earn their way into the final four.
It appeared in Sunday’s highly emotional semi-final that the Pirates magic would continue, as they held a 4-2 lead into the seventh inning, however the Chiefs would stage an amazing comeback, scoring six runs in the top of the inning and then blanking the Pirates in the bottom half, to escape with the 8-4 win.
In the finals, UBC’s Soper and the Chief’s Dowon Kim went toe-to-toe through the first few innings, both teams helping their pitchers out with solid defence, until Kim seemed to run out of gas in the bottom of the fourth, an inning that just seemed would never end, as the Thunder kept finding ways to score.
Whalley would finally break the goose-egg with a run in the fifth inning, but it would not be enough as the Thunder would add another in each of the fifth and sixth innings to close out the 10-1 win.
Like the Premier league finals held over the August long weekend, Sunday’s Junior finals, put as normal a finish on the season as it could, given the delayed start of the season because of COVID and early travel restrictions that saw many teams only play one opponent over the first eight games of the year.
However, the bottom line is that for all players involved, many of whom have not had the chance to play meaningful games for a season and a half, just being back on the field, playing a game they love, was reward enough.
This was evidenced by one Thunder player overhead on the bench just prior to the completion of the finals, “I’m so pumped! We’ve waited two years for this boys!”
Congratulations to the UBC Thunder on their 2021 Junior title and season. And congratulations to the Chiefs, Pirates and Twins on their playoff runs, as well as to all teams in the BCJPBL for making the best of the 2021 season.
All photos from the Junior Premier Semi-Finals and Final, plus a couple of round robin games on Saturday will eventually find their way to Christian J. Stewart’s web site at https://christianjstewart.zenfolio.com/jpbl2021