The Abbotsford Cardinals’ season ended in heartbreaking fashion on Tuesday, as they lost a tiebreaker game with a trip to the playoffs on the line.
The Cardinals and the Nanaimo Pirates had finished the B.C. Premier Baseball League regular season with matching 20-28 records, necessitating a nine-inning play-in game at a neutral field, Whalley Athletic Park in Surrey.
In a back-and-forth slugfest, Nanaimo hung on for a 7-6 win after weathering a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth.
“The boys played their hearts out all game – it was probably the best we’ve played all year,” Cards coach Corey Eckstein said. “It was a see-saw battle back and forth.
“But we couldn’t pull it off, and it was kind of the story of the year.”
Tuesday’s defeat was the Cardinals’ fifth straight to end the season.
After sweeping a pair of home games vs. the Okanagan Athletics last Wednesday, they held a three-game lead on the Pirates with four regular-season games remaining for both teams. But Abbotsford dropped a pair of weekend doubleheaders on the road – including three one-run losses – while Nanaimo won three of four to pull into a tie.
With their season on the line in Surrey, the Cards were sparked by their corner infielders – first baseman Benji Wieler went 4-for-5 at the plate, while third baseman Matthew Reston was 2-for-3 with a walk, two runs scored and an RBI. Jae Kim, Branden Gill and Jesse Braun also drove in runs for the Cards.
But the Abby squad was also somewhat snakebit offensively – in the bottom of the fifth inning, with the bases loaded with two outs, Nick LaFlamme ripped a screamer of a line drive, but Pirates centre fielder Zach Diewert tracked the ball down and made a fantastic grab.
“I thought it was going to clear the bases and we were going to be up three runs, but the guy made an outstanding catch in centre,” Eckstein said. “And then they came back in the next inning and scored two runs.”
LaFlamme found himself in a similar situation in the bottom of the ninth, with the bases juiced and two away. But Nanaimo pitcher Josh Burgmann got him to fly out to centre field once again for the final out.
“He was on fire – he hit the ball hard all game,” Eckstein said of LaFlamme.
It didn’t help the Cards’ cause that they were missing Tanner Rempel, who led the team in batting average (.350), RBI (20) and stolen bases (10), due to a strained hamstring for their last five games.
Eckstein noted his team’s season came down to 17 one-run losses.
“Our pitching was outstanding, our defence was outstanding,” he said. “We had a lot of close games, and a lot of chances with runners in scoring position where we just couldn’t get that hit that we needed.”
The Junior Cardinals are still cruising along – they’re in fifth place in the BCJPBL with a 25-13 record, and have already clinched a playoff berth.