It took a 48-game regular season and a best-of-three playoff round, but the field is set for the B.C. Premier Baseball League (PBL) championship tournament next weekend at Whalley Stadium.
The five-team tournament will run Friday through Monday, and the host Whalley Chiefs will be competing against the Langley Blaze, North Shore Twins, Victoria Mariners and Vancouver Cannons for the championship of the elite 18-and-under league.
The five teams will play a round robin Friday through Sunday, with the top three teams playing off Monday.
The Blaze, North Shore and the Mariners were the top three teams in the PBL over the past four months by a wide margin. Langley finished atop the standings with a 35-12 (won-lost) record, but needed three games to eliminate the eighth-place Nanaimo Pirates in their playoff series last weekend in Langley.
The North Shore Twins were in second place at 32-12, and also needed three games to advance in the playoffs, knocking out the Victoria Eagles in North Vancouver.
Victoria placed third in the final league standings at 34-14, and hosted the White Rock Tritons, winning the series in two games.
The Cannons were the lone team to win their playoff series on the road. After a fifth-place finish (26-22), they travelled to Kelowna and upset the fourth-place Athletics (28-20) in three games.
Chiefs general manager Paul Hargreaves isn’t surprised by the four teams which have qualified for the championship tournament, correctly predicting the PBL’s top squads back in early April.
“North Shore, Langley (Blaze), Vancouver (Cannons) and probably the Victoria Mariners are the odds-on favorites to reach the final four,” said Hargreaves prior to the first pitch of the 48-game PBL regular season.
While the Twins, Langley, Vancouver and Mariners have been at or near the top of the PBL, the Chiefs struggled in 20-14.
A bright spot was designated hitter Jacob Robazza finishing the season as the PBL’s batting champion, hitting .438 with 25 runs batted in (RBI) and a league-best four triples. The Fraser Heights Secondary student was the only player in the league to hit better than .400.
Offensively, the Chiefs rank with the best in the PBL, with a team average of .275 that trailed only the Twins (.291) and Mariners (.277). The Blaze were right behind Whalley at .273 while Vancouver hit .258.
It was pitching where the Chiefs struggled, their 4.17 ERA (earned run average) behind all opponents except the Parksville Royals (4.88).
Victoria led the league with a 1.93 ERA, followed by the Blaze at 1.95 and the North Shore at 2.10.
“Some days our pitchers are world beaters,” said Hargreaves. “But it depends how they start. If they get through the first two innings unscathed, they only get better.
“But sometimes they take two or three innings to get focused, but by then we’re down 3-1 or 4-1.”
During the regular season, the Chiefs played four times against each opponent. They split the four games against the Cannons, won once against the North Shore and were winless against Langley and the Mariners.
Whalley will play their first game at the championship tournament against the Blaze Friday (Aug. 1) evening at 7:30 p.m., then play the Mariners Saturday at 2 p.m.
They are on the field twice Sunday, at 1 p.m. against Vancouver and at 3:30 p.m. with the Twins.
“We’re here to have some fun and see if we can upset a few teams,” said Hargreaves. “We’re not going to roll over.”
The top three teams advance to a playoff Sunday, with a semifinal game at 10:30 a.m. followed by the final at 1 p.m.
All games will be televised live via VBN Sports at http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/vbn.portal, a first for the PBL playoffs. All games will also be available for viewing for 90 days following the tournament.
Admission is $10 for the tournament or $5 per day. Children’s admission is $1 per day. Tournament passes will include coupons for the concession, t-shirts and other offers.