By IAN WILSON
It’s time to celebrate!
The Okotoks Dawgs and Medicine Hat Mavericks will mark their 20th anniversary in the Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL) with a very special date and everyone is invited.
The two Alberta franchises – who joined the league in 2003 when it went by the name of the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL) – will meet in the WCBL Championship Final, which begins Tuesday night at Seaman Stadium in Okotoks and continues Wednesday evening at Athletic Park in Medicine Hat. If necessary, a deciding Game 3 would take place in Okotoks on Thursday at 7:05 p.m.
“It is hard to believe that 280 regular season and 13 playoff games have been completed in 2023, leaving us with only two or three more left to be played and determine a WCBL champion for this season,” noted league president Kevin Kvame.
“I extend my congratulations to the defending champs from Okotoks and the new Eastern Division champs from Medicine Hat on their achievements to date, along with the honour of competing for the Harry Hallis Memorial Trophy as WCBL champions. I look forward to seeing the capacity crowds expected at Seaman Stadium and Athletic Park cheer on the two teams battling for the annual honour.”
In setting the table for this occasion, let’s preview the matchup between the Harry Hallis Memorial Trophy hopefuls.
Okotoks Playoff Path: The Dawgs opened the 2023 postseason by sweeping the Fort McMurray Giants in two games, winning 8-0 in the first contest and 4-2 in the second tilt. Okotoks faced a stiffer test in their West Division rival Sylvan Lake Gulls in the second round, but once again swept the series with relative ease, triumphing 10-5 in Game 1 and 7-1 in Game 2.
Medicine Hat Playoff Path: The Mavericks, who finished in second place in the East Division, made quick work of the Regina Red Sox in the opening series. An 11-3 win, followed by a 9-1 drubbing of the Red Sox ended their season in just two games. A rematch of the 2022 East Division Final pitted the Mavs against the Miller Express, with that second-round series going the full three games. Medicine Hat won a tight 5-4 contest in the first game, and then dropped the second game by a 7-5 score. The deciding game at Ross Wells Park in Moose Jaw was a wild, high-scoring affair that ended with a football-esque final tally of 14-7 in favour of the Mavericks.
Head-to-Head: This is the first postseason matchup between the Dawgs and Mavericks since 2015, when both clubs were in the West Division and Medicine Hat won a best-of-five series 3-2. In 2023, the two teams faced each other four times and the Dawgs were victorious in three of those matchups.
Dawgs Players: Last year’s WCBL Playoff MVP, Brendan Luther, is earning the title of “Mr. August” for his postseason heroics. The shortstop leads Okotoks in batting average (.444), hits (8), RBI (8) and home runs (2) through four games. His two bombs helped put away the Sylvan Lake Gulls in Round 2 on back-to-back nights. Centre fielder Alejandro Cazorla, who was also a member of the 2022 championship team, delivered a grand slam against the Gulls in Game 1 of that series and is batting .333 with two stolen bases. Every starting pitcher has picked up a win for the Dawgs during this playoff run, including Graham Brunner, Logan Rumberg, Gavin Wuschke and Brock Townsend. Brunner leads in strikeouts so far, with five in six innings. Dustin Schorie, meanwhile, has appeared in two games and he picked up a save in a win over Fort McMurray.
Mavericks Players: Medicine Hat has been getting production from up and down their lineup in the 2023 playoffs, with second baseman Brady Bean leading the club in runs (9), home runs (2) and stolen bases (4) in his 20 at bats. Catcher Dominic VanDoorne has a team-best .421 batting average and four doubles in five games, while shortstop Tyler Vanneste is batting .364 with three doubles, a homer and nine runs batted in (RBI). The pitching staff has seen wins turned in by Adam Golby, Tim Carlson, Edrian Rangel and Dylan Esquival, who leads the Mavs this postseason in innings pitched (11.1) and strikeouts (10).
Okotoks Team Stats: Through 142 at bats, Dawgs hitters posted a .324 batting average, 29 runs, 46 hits, six doubles, four round trippers, 15 walks and five stolen bases. They struck out 27 times. Okotoks has used 13 pitchers in 35 innings. Those hurlers have compiled a 2.06 earned run average (ERA), while surrendering 27 hits, eight earned runs and nine walks. They’ve racked up 27 Ks.
Medicine Hat Team Stats: In five postseason contests and 180 at bats, hitters on the Mavericks have put together a collective .283 batting average while scoring 44 runs, smacking 51 hits, picking up 10 doubles and launching six long balls. Batters have walked 33 times, been hit by seven pitches, stole 13 bases and struck out 43 times against Regina and Moose Jaw. Eight different Medicine Hat pitchers have logged 45 innings and given up 41 hits, 14 earned runs and 18 walks. They carry a combined ERA of 2.80 and have 44 strikeouts.
Championship Legacy: The Dawgs are trying to capture their seventh title, which would give them back-to-back championships and make Okotoks the winningest franchise in the WMBL/WCBL era. The Swift Current 57’s and Okotoks Dawgs both have six titles dating back to 2001, when the league welcomed Alberta teams and became the WMBL. The Mavericks are vying for their fourth championship. They were tops in the league in 2003, 2014 and 2018.