The Abbotsford Cardinals’ drive towards the B.C. Premier Baseball League championship game took a dramatic detour on Saturday evening.
Coming off wins in their first two round-robin games at the Final Four tournament – 2-1 on Friday vs. the Vancouver Cannons and 4-2 earlier Saturday vs. the Nanaimo Pirates – the host Cardinals faced the Victoria Eagles with an automatic berth to the final on the line.
The game crackled with intensity befitting the stakes – coaches from both teams were ejected protesting umpires’ calls, and when the dust had settled, the Eagles had claimed a 1-0 victory.
Victoria advances to the title game at 3 p.m. Sunday, while the Cardinals will play Nanaimo in the semifinal at 12:30 p.m. The games are at DeLair Park.
“Obviously it would have been a heck of a lot nicer not having to play that semifinal game, to be honest with you, never mind the nonsense that took place between umpires today,” said Cards coach Corey Eckstein, who was thrown out in the top of the sixth inning after taking exception to a call at first base.
“We had runners in scoring position, and didn’t capitalize. A tip of the cap – it was a good game for the Eagles. We didn’t make adjustments at the plate, and it cost us in the end.”
Cardinals starter Jesse McGowan kept the Eagles off the board until the fifth inning, and it was then that Eckstein and the Cards began to grow frustrated with the umpires.
Leading off, Victoria’s Zane Takhar hit a ball on the ground and was called safe at first base, though the throw appeared to hit Abby first baseman Riley Salter’s glove a fraction of a second before Takhar’s foot hit the bag. The Cards were incensed, and Eckstein came out of the dugout for a brief chat with the first base umpire.
Takhar would come around to score after the Eagles loaded the bases with one out. Brandon Feldman hit a grounder that looked like a possible double play ball, but Abby shortstop Matt Strother bobbled it and all the runners were safe. He was charged with an error.
In the top of the sixth, Takhar put another ball on the ground that third baseman Emilio Foden initially juggled, but he came up with a strong throw to first. Once again, Takhar was called safe, and this time Eckstein got the heave-ho after voicing his displeasure. He made sure he got his money’s worth, following the ump into right field to offer a final critique.
In the bottom of the seventh, it was the Eagles’ turn to lose their cool with the umpiring crew.
Victoria pitcher Riley Edmonds, who worked a complete game, hit Salter to lead off the inning, and Tanner Rempel followed by dropping a bunt down the third base line. It was a tough play for third baseman Feldman – the ball squirted under his glove, and Rempel had an apparent infield single. The ball subsequently rolled foul, but the home plate umpire ruled Feldman had touched it – thus, fair ball. The Eagles protested vigorously, and a member of their coaching staff was ejected.
But the inning pivoted back in Victoria’s favour as Jesse Braun laid down a sacrifice bunt, and the Eagles came up with a terrific defensive play to throw out pinch runner Joel Van Ee at third. Edmonds struck out Jae Kim and Coleton Besse to end the ballgame.
In the aftermath, Eckstein said his ejection was about trying to fire up his team.
“Sometimes as a manager, that’s what you’ve got to do,” he said.
“You never blame umpires whether it’s a win or a loss, but at the same time, there were probably four bogus calls tonight that I’d like to see on replay,” he added with a wry chuckle.
In the Cards’ 4-2 win over Nanaimo earlier in the afternoon, Rajin Neger went the distance, striking out four and surrendering just four hits over seven innings, while Besse (two RBI) and Brett Walker (two hits) ignited the offence.
The two teams will clash again in the semifinal, with Daniel Koo getting the start on the mound for Abbotsford.
“We do have enough (pitching) depth, where we have two of our best arms that are fresh and ready to go tomorrow,” said Eckstein, alluding to the fact that Koo has thrown just two innings this weekend while Liam Kano-McGregor has yet to take the mound.