Liam Knight avoids a high pitch inside during BCPBL action on Sunday. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)

Liam Knight avoids a high pitch inside during BCPBL action on Sunday. (John Morrow/Abbotsford News)

Veteran feel for 2018 Abbotsford Cardinals

BCPBL club expected to challenge for league championship

The 2018 Abbotsford Senior Cardinals aren’t lacking in experience.

With a strong veteran presence of 13 graduating players this season, the Cards are again expected to challenge for the BC Premier Baseball League championship and head coach Corey Eckstein said he thinks much of the team’s strength comes from the mound.

“We’re deep in our pitching this year,” he said, prior to Sunday’s home opener at DeLair Park. “Deeper than most years. I think our depth on the mound is hopefully what’s going to carry us throughout the year.”

Graduating pitchers Travis McDougall, Brett Jackson, Derick Powell, Nick Graham and Sasha Kamenjesavic are all expected to put in significant time on the bump in 2018. Of the 13 graduating players, 11 have already committed to American or Canadian college baseball programs for 2019.

“As long as we swing it and take care of the ball defensively, I think we’re going to be OK this year,” Eckstein added.

But it’s not just the pitching that should be solid, as offensively the team will be carried by Canadian Junior National team member Dylan Ohlsen and catcher Kayden Beauregard.

“They’re going to be the thump of the order in the middle of the lineup for us,” Eckstein said. “And we have some table setters at the top in sophomore Carlin Dick and Yosuke Fujie.”

Abbotsford’s offence was on full display in the first two games of the BCPBL season, as the Cards opened on Saturday with 16-1 and 5-1 wins on the road against the North Delta Blue Jays. Beauregard smacked one home run and drove in seven runs in game one, with Jayson Smith driving in three. Graham allowed just one hit over five innings and struck out eight to pick up the win.

Beauregard added two more RBIs in game two, and Jackson allowed just two hits and one run while striking out eight in four innings of work to earn the win.

The North Shore Twins then handed the Cardinals their first loss of the season on Sunday, with Abbotsford falling 9-1 in game one of the doubleheader at DeLair Park.

The Cards bounced back in game two, blanking the Twins 8-0. Smith, Liam Knight and Romero Snow all drove in a pair of runs, while Taisei Yahiro had a one-hit complete game shutout for the win.

Eckstein said the goal for 2018 is the same as every year, reach the BCPBL final four. It would be the third-straight appearance for the Cards if they can qualify this season.

“That’s the standard here now,” he said. “And I think there’s a good chance we can make it again this year.”

He said the Langley Blaze and Okanagan Athletics are other teams to watch this season. Abbotsford currently sits in second place with a record of three wins and one loss, but Eckstein pointed out he wants the club to peak in July.

The Cardinals head coach said he’s enjoying the growth of baseball in the Fraser Valley, with the UFV Cascades baseball team also starting up this month.

“Anytime we can grow the game at the grassroots or university level is a great thing,” he said. “I think the City [of Abbotsford] is slowly starting to realize that we’re way behind as far as baseball facilities go. We have nine-year-old’s playing on the same diamonds I did. I’m hopeful and trying to remain as patient as possible.”

Eckstein said he’s also thrilled to see so many of his graduating players continuing on with the sport at the college level. The following players have already committed to college programs: Jayson Smith (Wenatchee, NWACC); Brett Bass (Purdue NCAA Div 1); Dylan Ohlsen (Sacramento State, NCAA Div 1); Travis McDougall (Northwest Florida State (NJCAA Div 1); Brett Jackson (Young Harris, NCAA Div 2); Kayden Beauregard (Iowa Western, NJCAA Div 1); Kaiden Cardoso (Clarendon, NJCAA Div 1); Mike Fitzimmons (Prairie Baseball Academy University of Lethbridge, CCBC); Massimo Peranio (Okanagan College, CCBC); and Derick Powell (Okanagan College, CCBC).

“My job is to find the right fit for these kids and I take pride in the fact that we’ve sent a lot of players to a lot of different places the past few year,” Eckstein said.

The Cardinals return to action at DeLair Park with a doubleheader (1 and 3:30 p.m.) against the Victoria Eagles on Saturday and then a pair of games (11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.) against the Victoria Mariners on Sunday.

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