Coleton Besse of the Abbotsford Cardinals catches the ball at second base to get a force out on Jonathan Keltie of the Coquitlam Reds.

Coleton Besse of the Abbotsford Cardinals catches the ball at second base to get a force out on Jonathan Keltie of the Coquitlam Reds.

Cards show grit, rally past Reds in first round of BCPBL playoffs

After Coquitlam won the series opener, Abbotsford showed a great deal of mental toughness and rallied to win the next two.

Heading into their first-round playoff series against the Coquitlam Reds, the Abbotsford Cardinals found themselves in a unique position where winning wasn’t absolutely essential.

By virtue of their status as hosts of the B.C. Premier Baseball League‘s Final Four tournament, which runs July 26-28 at DeLair Park, the Cards knew they’d be advancing regardless. If the Reds prevailed, the Final Four would simply become a Final Five to accommodate the host squad.

It’s a tribute, then, to the Cards’ mental toughness that they managed to outlast the Reds, particularly since the Coquitlam squad gave them plenty of opportunities to pack it in.

“I’m kind of speechless,” marveled Emilio Foden, one of the Abby club’s many heroes on the weekend. “It’s a really good feeling. It shows we can win as a team.”

The No. 5-seeded Reds opened the best-of-three series at DeLair with a clinical 4-0 win on Saturday, as pitcher Curtis Taylor limited No. 4 seed Abbotsford to one measly hit while striking out nine batters over seven innings.

The Cards’ bats were no more lively in the back half of the doubleheader, but Foden, their starter on the mound, engaged his Coquitlam counterpart Ryan Mose in an epic pitchers’ duel. Neither team could muster a run as the game stretched to extra innings.

Foden, over his eight innings, surrendered just four hits and no walks to go with 10 strikeouts. Mose, meanwhile, pitched into the 10th, and it was then that the Cards finally mustered some offence.

It started innocently enough, as Liam Kano-McGregor lifted a towering pop fly between home plate and the mound. Four Reds players converged, but communication proved problematic as all four stood aside and watched the ball hit the grass.

After a sacrifice bunt by Jesse Braun, Jae Kim ripped a ground rule double to score pinch runner Joel VanEe. Coleton Besse followed with an RBI single to drive in Kim and make it 2-0.

Daniel Koo, who had come on in relief of Foden, shut the Reds down in the bottom of the 10th, and the series was level at 1-1.

The Cards got another terrific pitching performance in Sunday’s rubber match from Kano-McGregor, who kept Coquitlam off the board for six innings. Abby made its offensive push in the fifth, as Tanner Rempel smacked a two-run double and Kim drove him in with an RBI single. The Cards stretched the lead to 4-0 in the sixth on Riley Salter’s sacrifice fly.

Kano-McGregeor got into some trouble in the seventh, giving up two quick singles, but Koo came in to pitch and limited the damage to one run as Abby won 4-1.

It marked the Cardinals’ first-ever playoff series win at the senior level, and they’re carrying some major momentum into the Final Four.

“I’ll be smiling from ear to ear for a while,” Abby coach Corey Eckstein acknowledged with a grin. “I’m happy for the kids and the parents to experience it. They’re deserving of it.”

Foden said that Saturday’s epic 10-inning triumph was a huge confidence builder.

“That win really brought us closer as a team,” he said. “We knew we were going to win (on Sunday) – we were coming in hot today. There was a lot more intensity today than there was yesterday, that’s for sure.”

Eckstein was happy for Kano-McGregor, who was cut from B.C.’s 17-and-under selects squad earlier in the week.

“I figured I’d start him today because I figured there’d be a little more fire in the belly,” Eckstein said. “He was a little bit upset about it. I thought he was deserving to be in there, but he came out today and proved himself.”

The Cardinals were the only higher seed to advance on a wild weekend of BCPBL playoff action.

The No. 8-seeded Vancouver Cannons played the role of giant slayer, knocking off the No. 1 Langley Blaze in three games. They’ll be joined at the Final Four by the No. 7 Nanaimo Pirates (2-0 series winners over the No. 2 Victoria Mariners) and the No. 6 Victoria Eagles (2-1 series winners over the No. 3 North Shore Twins).

A Final Four schedule is as follows. All games are at DeLair Park.

Friday, July 26

4:30 p.m. – Nanaimo vs. Victoria

7 p.m. – Vancouver vs. Abbotsford

Saturday, July 27

10 a.m. – Vancouver vs. Victoria

12:30 p.m. – Vancouver vs. Nanaimo

3 p.m. – Nanaimo vs. Abbotsford

5:30 p.m. – Victoria vs. Abbotsford

Sunday, July 28

10 a.m. – tiebreaker to determine third place in round robin (if necessary)

12:30 p.m. – semifinal between round robin second- and third-place finishers

3 p.m. – final between round robin first-place team and semifinal winner