In many ways, it’s already been an historic season for the Abbotsford Cardinals.
The local B.C. Premier Baseball League club set a team record for regular season victories with 29, then registered their first-ever playoff series win at the senior level by edging the Coquitlam Reds 2-1 in a best-of-three set last weekend.
This week, they have a chance to further expand their legacy, as they host the BCPBL Final Four tournament at DeLair Park.
The Cards, who finished fourth in the regular season standings, find themselves seeded No. 1 at the Final Four after the first playoff round produced a slew of stunning upsets.
The No. 8-ranked Vancouver Cannons pulled off the biggest shocker, upending the No. 1 Langley Blaze in three games, while 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) engineered upsets of their own.
While it won’t be easy by any means, the door is decidedly open for the Cards, who boast the pitching depth to excel in a tourney setting.
“I don’t think we were expecting to come in as the No. 1 seed,” head coach Corey Eckstein admitted. “But that’s the best part about the game sometimes – any team can win on any given day.
“I don’t think it sets up any differently for us (at the Final Four). . . It’s still four teams.”
Eckstein describes the Cardinals’ group of Grade 12 players as “close-knit,” many of them having come up through the Abbotsford Minor Baseball ranks together. They’re also an awfully accomplished crew, judging by the number who will continue to play at the college level after their days with the Cards are done.
Matthew Strother, Jesse McGowan and Carter Williams are set to attend the Prairie Baseball Academy at the University of Lethbridge together this fall, while Coleton Besse (Cloud County Junior College, Kansas), Daniel Koo (Grayson Junior College, Texas) and Rajin Neger (Edmonds Community College, Washington) have also nailed down their post-secondary futures.
Emilio Foden and Brett Walker are still sorting through scholarship offers and are expected to make decisions soon, while Jesse Braun is planning to return to the Cards for his overage year. Fellow seniors Jordan Dobos (becoming a police officer) and Riley Salter (trade school) have post-grad plans that don’t feature baseball.
The 12th member of the Cards’ Grade 12 crew, Kurtis Kostuk, was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in June and departed for the Arizona rookie league after signing a pro contract.
“The majority of these guys have been together since they were nine or 10 years old, and most of them were part of the Yale (Secondary) baseball academy, too,” Eckstein said of his seniors.
“They’ve gelled really well over the past little while, and they’re starting to peak at the right time, I think. We’re starting to play some really good baseball.”
Second baseman Besse said it’s “definitely special” to wrap up his Cardinals career by taking a run at a league championship at DeLair Park.
“Just playing baseball in Abbotsford all my life, it definitely means a lot,” he said. “Growing up with all these guys, it’s definitely something special to share with them.”
“I’m trying to make the most of it, and I’m sure everyone else is,” Koo echoed. “I hope we make these weekends very memorable.”
The Final Four schedule is as follows.
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