No Flocking Way

By JOE McFARLAND

Evan Wilde knew what was happening. A few of his teammates were also tuned in. But not everyone at Pogadl Park in Sylvan Lake was aware they were witnessing history.

Believe it or not, that included the Gulls’ head coach.

Wilde, along with Brett Higgins and Zane Pollon, combined for the first no-hitter in Gulls’ history in a 9-0 win over the Lethbridge Bulls on August 15th.

The secret was safe with those who knew, as the scoreboard is still being worked on for the Western Canadian Baseball League’s expansion franchise.

And no one was going to say anything about it, given the fear of the jinx.

“Absolutely not,” Wilde laughed. “It’s a curse in baseball to talk about a no-hit bid during the game. You never, ever say the words ‘no-no’ or ‘no-hitter’ when it’s happening because that’s just bad juju.”

He does admit teammates alluded to it during the game, asking him if he was coming out of the game at all to save his pitch count, but he would reply that there was “a very good reason why” he couldn’t come out.

“You’re probably going to laugh at this answer but I honestly didn’t even know our team was throwing a no-hitter until after the last pitch,” Gulls coach Jason Chatwood smiled. “My assistant coach told me and I had no clue.”

SEVEN STRONG

Wilde, a native of Airdrie, was still searching for his first win with the Gulls when he was tabbed as the starter for Sunday’s season finale.

Heading into the game, he was 0-1 with a 9.33 earned-run average (ERA) in nine games, including five starts.

The Cloud County Community College product had some ups and downs early in the game, including 1-2-3 innings in the first, third and sixth.

He also issued a couple of walks in the second, hit a batter and walked another in the fourth, then walked a batter in each of the fifth and seventh innings.

“Honestly, I didn’t really have my off-speed stuff working that well,” Wilde said. “But my fastball had some extra juice on it, so I was just pounding the strike zone with that and mixing the occasional off-speed to keep them off balance.”

It was the kind of stuff that earned him a spot on our 2020 All-College Team, as he posted a 3-0 record and a 1.27 ERA in five appearances before the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down.

“I was just trusting my stuff,” he added. “I have confidence that when my stuff is on, I can beat anybody. So I don’t try to change my approach, no matter who I’m facing.”

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

While his starter was icing the bats of the Bulls, Chatwood was also mindful of the upcoming playoff schedule.

After the seventh inning, he was heading to the bullpen.

“Evan threw a great game and we were moreso just trying to manage his pitch count,” the bench boss said. “He got on a roll so we were able to extend him for seven innings, but we didn’t want to go any further.”

He also had a plan to get an inning of work in for both Higgins and Pollon.

It didn’t make the decision any easier to swallow for Wilde.

“They told me I was done and I was like, ‘There’s no way,’” he said. “But when they said I was at 103 pitches, I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, that’s reasonable.’ Playoffs are what we have to play for, ultimately.”

FLYING OUT

Toeing the rubber in the eighth inning was Edmonton’s Brett Higgins.

The 6-foot, 205-pound righthander was in the midst of a solid campaign for the Gulls, posting a 3-1 record with a 3.38 ERA in 11 appearances, including two starts.

He found himself in the same situation as his coach.

“When I came into the game, I didn’t actually realize there was a no-no at all,” Higgins admitted. “If there was a scoreboard, I would have definitely noticed. So having no board for the game was a blessing in disguise.”

He went right to work, including flyball outs from the bats of Nick Gravel, Brad Goodwin and Evan Symons.

“Coming into that inning, I was pretty relaxed,” Higgins added. “The score was 7-0 at that point, and not knowing what was happening, I wasn’t trying to do too much and just stuck to my game-plan.”

Like Wilde, the Edmonton College Baseball Club (ECBC) product wanted to attack the strike zone. But it came with a tense moment that could have ended the no-hit bid.

“(Kyle) Froehlich made a diving catch for the second out and I was pretty pumped he made that play,” Higgins said. “I didn’t realize how big of a catch that actually was until after the game.”

CLOSING IT OUT

After the Gulls added two more runs in the bottom of the eighth, the stage was set for lefthander Zane Pollen to finish the game.

The Wilcox, Saskatchewan native had seen action in three games previously, striking out eight in a little more than five innings of work.

Even though he knew what was on the line, he knew he had a job to do: preserve the 9-0 lead.

“I wasn’t really nervous,” Pollon said. “I tried to just keep attacking the hitters I faced and focus on making good pitches.”

His goal was to get ahead in the count and not leave anything juicy for Lethbridge’s hitters to get to.

The Mount Marty University product, who had committed to the Regina Red Sox before the Saskatchewan teams opted out of the 2021 season, made quick work of his adversaries.

He struck out Dalton Demers, then saw Jack Ray ground out to second base. After falling behind 2-0 to Kalem Haney, Pollon fired three-straight strikes to end the game and complete the no-hitter.

LETTING EVERYONE KNOW

When Haney swung through that final pitch and the ball slapped into the glove of catcher Sam Mitcham, the Gulls players mobbed each other, finally saying out loud what they had wanted to say for a few innings.

“I was very exciting as I’ve never been a part of a no-hitter like that,” Wilde said. “The atmosphere from us was great, but I don’t think our coaches even knew and same with most of the people in the crowd. So hardly anyone knew what we did.”

One person who was aware was public address announcer Joe Whitbread.

“We knew,” the Gulls stadium voice said. “We started really paying attention to the pitching situation after another blank inning in the fifth.”

He said the crew behind-the-scenes knew about the superstitious aspect of a no-hitter, so while he tried to get the fans amped up, he had to choose his words carefully.

So when the game wrapped up, the crowd’s reaction was muted, at least until Whitbread told them what they had witnessed.

“We announced a combined no-hitter at the end in our wrap-up,” he said. “The crowd was enthusiastic, but also aware that it was a 9-0 final score.”

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

It was the first no-hitter in the WCBL since Weyburn Beavers’ hurler Christian Vick goose-egged the Edmonton Prospects in 2019, while Rich Walker did it with the Prospects in a 2018 perfect game.* The trio of hurlers also enter the record books for the Gulls.

“It’s extremely cool,” Higgins said. “It’s something that I will remember forever and is definitely one of the baseball memories I’ll always cherish.”

Making it even more special for them was doing it in front of the hometown crowd.

“It’s always awesome stepping on the mound in Sylvan,” Pollon stated. “Easily the best crowd I have pitched in front of so far.”

That crowd has been treated a great summer of baseball, as the expansion Gulls finished second in the regular season standings, compiling a 23-17 record and home-field advantage in the first round of the WCBL playoffs.

“The no-hitter was definitely an exclamation point on a great day as it was also Fan Appreciation Day,” Chatwood said.

Once the final out was made, the coach also took a moment to soak in the experience, once he realized what had actually happened.

“Lots of players actually didn’t even realize there was a no-no happening,” Chatwood laughed. “So at least I wasn’t the only one.”

*Editor’s note: The original version of this story alluded to Walker throwing the last WCBL no-hitter. Thanks to some eagle-eyed fans for pointing out that Vick threw his no-hitter in 2019. Alberta Dugout Stories sincerely apologizes for the error. Thanks for understanding and for reading!

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