By IAN WILSON
The Moose Jaw Miller Express are seeking their first Western Canadian Baseball League championship in 20 years.
The Miller Express punched their ticket to the WCBL final with a 2-1 series win over the Medicine Hat Mavericks on Sunday night in Moose Jaw.
Since they last claimed a title in 2002 – which they were co-winners of with the Melville Millionaires in the Western Major Baseball League, a predecessor of the WCBL – the Okotoks Dawgs have added five championship banners.
The Dawgs completed their sweep of the Sylvan Lake Gulls on Saturday night and will host Game 1 of the best-of-three championship series at Seaman Stadium on Tuesday, Aug. 16th at 7:05 p.m. Following a record 43-win regular season, Okotoks is a perfect 4-0 in the 2022 postseason.
After winning the Harry Hallis Memorial Trophy in 2019, the Dawgs fielded two teams in an Alberta-only, pandemic-shortened 2021 WCBL campaign. They’ll look to return to form by adding their name to the trophy for a sixth time this summer.
The Dawgs have shown they can win games in numerous ways. In their opening series against Brooks, the offensive prowess was on display as the Dawgs outscored the Bombers 28-8 over two games. When they advanced to the West Division Final to face a Sylvan Lake team with a stellar pitching staff, Okotoks won tight-scoring contests by a 4-0 score in Game 1 and 4-3 in Game 2. The second game of the series included a ninth-inning comeback by the Dawgs that stunned the Gulls.
Moose Jaw has proven to be resilient all season long. The Miller Express finished the regular season with a 33-23 record, just one game behind the Regina Red Sox for top spot in the East Division. They dispatched the Swift Current 57’s in the minimum of two games, following 9-2 and 5-3 victories in the opening round. The underdog Medicine Hat Mavericks pushed them to the brink in the East Division Final, but Moose Jaw showed they were the better team by outscoring the Mavs 13-5 over the three games.
BY THE NUMBERS
Okotoks hitters have produced more runs (36), runs batted in (28), total bases (79), triples (4), and home runs (3) than any other WCBL club in the postseason, and they have the edge over all playoff teams in on-base percentage (.435), batting average (.361), and slugging percentage (.571) through 147 at bats.
In their 176 at bats, the Miller Express lead the circuit in hits, with 56, but they are second to the Dawgs in many key offensive categories. Batters on both teams have similar walk and strikeout totals, while Okotoks has the edge on the base paths. The Dawgs have stolen six bases and been caught five times, and the Miller Express have only swiped two bags and been tagged out three times.
On the mound, the East and West Division champs appear to be fairly evenly matched. Moose Jaw pitchers have posted the best earned run average (1.40) and WHIP (1.11), while issuing just 10 bases on balls all playoffs. Not to be outdone, the hill toppers on the Dawgs lead the WCBL postseason in strikeouts (47) and lowest opposition batting average (.195).
Both clubs have plenty of star power.
The Dawgs batting lineup has featured middle infielder Ricardo Sanchez (.474 batting average, seven runs, six RBI, six extra-base hits); outfielder Alejandro Cazorla (.429 average, six runs, two triples); first baseman McCoy Pearce (.412 average, six runs, two homers, two stolen bases); outfielder Micah McDowell (.333 average, six RBI, three runs); and infielder Brendan Luther (.438 average, five runs).
Moose Jaw has received clutch hitting from infielder Zach Campbell (.476 batting average, seven runs, two stolen bases); outfielder Nate Mensik (.450 average, five RBI, four runs); and outfielder Joe Osborn (.333 average, four runs, four RBI, one homer).
Outstanding pitching performances have been turned in by Kellan Voggesser, who is 2-o with a 1.50 ERA and 13 Ks in his 12 innings as a starter for the Miller Express, and Moose Jaw closer Reece Helland, who has a pair of saves, a 1.13 ERA and 11 Ks in eight innings of bullpen work.
The Dawgs have received solid playoff starts from Bobby Vath (6.2 innings, 2.70 ERA, 8 Ks) and David Case (5 innings, 7 Ks, zero earned runs), while relievers Matt Wilkinson, Rylan Penner, Cade Hermann and Ryan McFarland have combined for 19 strikeouts over 10.1 shutout innings.
CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
- Game 1 at Seaman Stadium in Okotoks, Tuesday, Aug. 16th, 7:05 p.m.
- Game 2 at Ross Wells Park in Moose Jaw, Wednesday, Aug. 17th, 7:05 p.m.
- Game 3 at Seaman Stadium in Okotoks, Thursday, Aug. 18th, 7:05 p.m. (if necessary)