Summer has been slow in arriving, but the boys of summer are heating up in Abbotsford.
Both of the Abbotsford Cardinals teams – the seniors and the juniors – are hitting their stride as the B.C. Premier Baseball League season progresses past the midway point.
The senior Cards have engineered a remarkable turnaround around after a slow start. They came stumbling out of the gate, dropping 10 of their first 15 games, but they’ve been red-hot over the past month, and a pair of road wins on Sunday over the North Delta Blue Jays gave them a 12-2 record over their last 14 games.
Overall, the Cards are fifth place in the BCPBL at 20-14, and they’ve become the proverbial “team no one wants to play in the playoffs” because they’re playing better than their seeding would indicate.
Head coach Corey Eckstein believes his team’s victory at the B.C.’s Best tournament in Parksville over the May long weekend was the turning point.
“I think confidence is contagious,” he explained. “We’ve gotten away from having that one big inning where we give up two, three or four runs and can’t crawl back. Our pitchers have really stepped up, we’ve been pretty clean defensively, and our offence has given us enough to win.
“Our team is hungry, and they realize they can beat anybody in this league.”
The senior Cards extended their winning streak to five – the longest current streak in the league – on the strength of a pair of lights-out pitching performances on Sunday.
Daniel Koo’s two-hit outing in the first game of the day featured five strikeouts and zero walks, and Rajin Neger followed with a one-hit gem, highlighted by seven strikeouts and just one free pass.
The stat that jumped out to Eckstein was the fact that neither pitcher threw more than 80 pitches over seven innings – tremendous efficiency.
“When you see that stat line, you know their pitches are working and the defence is playing behind them,” he noted.
At the junior level, Abbotsford has been a longtime powerhouse – the Cards juniors won league titles in 2008 and ‘09, finished second in 2010, and made it as far as the semifinals in 2011.
2012 has been more of the same, as the juniors sit in third place with a 15-9 record.
Head coach Shawn Besse has gotten terrific performances from a quartet of returning pitchers – J.J. Pankratz, Liam Kano-McGregor (pictured right), Jordan Dobos and Emilio Foden – and above-average production at the plate from the team as a whole.
Besse has been most pleased with the blue-collar attitude of the group.
“The commitment to learning and getting better is what I really like,” he said. “They all like to do what’s best for each other, not just themselves.”
The lone frustration for the Junior Cards has been the weather. They recently had four games in a row rained out, and after they finally got a game in on Sunday – a 5-2 win over the North Shore Junior Twins at DeLair Park – the second half of the doubleheader was suspended due to rain.
“It wears on the kids more than myself, to a certain degree,” Besse noted with a wry chuckle. “They want to play instead of practice, because we’re always able to practice in our (indoor) facility. Of course, we’d like to get out on the field for more games.”