In the aftermath of the Abbotsford Cardinals’ 4-1 loss to the Nanaimo Pirates on Sunday afternoon, Jesse McGowan’s body language said it all.
As his Cards teammates cleared their gear out of the dugout, McGowan leaned over the railing in front, his arms folded and his chin resting on top, staring intently at the ground.
“It’s tough, because you can see how much potential we had,” the senior pitcher said, reflecting on the season-ending defeat, which came in the semifinal game of the B.C. Premier Baseball League Final Four tournament at DeLair Park.
“We had high expectations for this weekend.”
The Cardinals had gotten off to a promising start to the Final Four round robin, opening with a 2-1 extra-innings win over the Vancouver Cannons on Friday and knocking off Nanaimo 4-2 on Saturday afternoon.
A victory in their round-robin finale vs. the Victoria Eagles would have given them an automatic finals berth, but the Eagles edged them 1-0 in a game that saw the Cards strand eight baserunners.
Coaches from both teams were ejected for protesting umpires’ calls, and Abby head coach Corey Eckstein picked up an additional suspension for the semifinal after it was ruled he bumped the first base umpire while disputing a decision in the sixth inning.
“Apparently my chest touched a shoulder, and they felt the need (to assess a suspension),” Eckstein said. “It’s unfortunate.
“It was my last time coaching this group of boys (on Saturday), and I was hoping to get one more day with them. That’s probably the toughest part about it.”
The Cardinals got off to a quick start in the semifinal, going up 1-0 in the bottom of the first inning when Riley Salter singled to drive in Jae Kim.
But the Pirates responded by plating one run in each of the next four innings, and the host Cards couldn’t muster anything more offensively.
“It stings,” Eckstein said. “But you know what, Nanaimo was the better team today – they swung the bats well. And once again, we had opportunities to capitalize and score, and that didn’t transpire.”
In an all-Vancouver Island final, Victoria rallied past Nanaimo in dramatic fashion. Trailing 2-1 heading to the bottom of the seventh, the Eagles loaded the bases with two outs, and shortstop Vinny Martin came through with a single to drive in two runs, lifting Victoria to a 3-2 victory.
As for the Cardinals, there will come a day in the not-too-distant future where they will be able to appreciate what they accomplished during a landmark season in the elite under-18 league. They set a team record for regular season victories (29), won the first playoff series in club history, and their third-place provincial finish is another team record.
“It’s easier to leave knowing that we left a mark on the team, that we set records,” McGowan noted.
“A lot of guys in the league probably doubted us – probably thought we didn’t have enough offence to get it done,” Eckstein said. “But give these guys credit, they found ways to win ballgames through pitching and defence.
“They were relentless in that regard.”
Hosting provincials was a memorable experience for the Cards – the bleachers at DeLair Park were near capacity for the home team’s games.
“The first game (on Friday) was pretty surreal – under the lights, it was amazing,” McGowan said. “It was exciting to see how many people cared outside of our team. I couldn’t sleep that night, I was so excited to get back here.”