July 24th, 2024

Mavs-Bulls playoff series a toss-up

By Sean Rooney on August 1, 2017.


srooney@medicinehatnews.com
@MHNRooney

Here we go again.

Medicine Hat and Lethbridge will open the Western Major Baseball League playoffs against each other for the second straight season, in a toss-up of a series after they finished with identical regular season records.

Add in a bench-clearing incident a week ago and some players who are all-too-familiar with the opposition, and you’ve got the makings of a fantastic best-of-five matchup.

“If we can’t find a way to get up for those games against that team based off of what happened all year with them, I don’t know what would,” said Mavs coach Michael Thompson.

“It’s a really good rivalry between the two of us,” added Lethbridge coach Jesse Sawyer. “We’re excited to play them, they’re excited to play us. We don’t forget about last year so we’re looking forward to it.”

What Thompson’s referring to is the near-brawl that happened July 22 at Athletic Park and resulted in a pair of players suspended. Medicine Hat won that game and made the race for home field advantage come down to the final game of the season —the teams both finished 27-21 but the Bulls host tonight (7:05 p.m., Spitz Stadium) based on their 4-2 head-to-head record.

Sawyer’s recalling a three-game sweep at the hands of Medicine Hat last summer, the first two games needing extra innings in the Hat. He’s pretty happy staying at home for the first two this year.

“You get the home crowd on your side, they had it last year and we had two extra-inning ball games,” said Sawyer. “Maybe that crowd is a little bit of a determining factor.”

But rosters are vastly different this time around, especially for the Mavs who are led by Blake Rowlett. The Tennessee infielder played for Okotoks in 2016, now back with the team he won a 2014 WMBL title with. It’s him, tonight’s starting pitcher Jared Libke and hometown outfielder Zack Kunkel as the returnees, and the authority in his voice suggests he wants to lead the way.

“I think we can beat anybody,” said Rowlett, named Monday as both a first-team all-star utility player and second-team all-star second baseman by the league. “I think for us it’s just to be unselfish. You realize it doesn’t matter if you go 4-for-4 that day if your team loses. Individual stats do not matter.

“In 2014 when we won, I had a terrible first series. It didn’t matter, I had guys around me to pick me up and I had a good second series. It’s we over me right now.”

Rowlett hit .480 against the Bulls this summer, though he hit .390 overall and with a team whose combined average was .310. Nobody questions the team can put up runs —it’s whether they can stop them that will determine how they fare.

Comparably, Alex Bishop hit .478 against Medicine Hat, and his .341 average made him a second-team all-star first baseman. Outfielder Jesse Hilyard and relief pitchers Dawson Moser and Chris Stodolka were also named second-team all-stars.

“We’re kind of up and down,” said Sawyer. “We’ve had weeks where we do all three phases well; we pitch, we hit and we play good defence. Then we have none of the three or one or two.

“Med Hat’s very similar to that — they swing it well, that’s their strong suit, but there’s night when they pitch real well and play good defence.”

Sawyer will start right-hander Brady Moxham, who has only faced the Mavs lineup once — an 11-6 win the day after the bench-clearing incident.

No doubt the incident —which began with a home plate collision — is still fresh in players’ minds, but the Highway 3 rivalry has enough going on as is lately.

“I’m sure it’s in the back of guys’ minds, obviously there’s a little bit of dislike between us and them,” said Libke, who threw 10 innings in a Game 1 win last year. “But once you’re playing the game it’s about winning that game; it’s not about who’s tougher than who.”

The series continues Wednesday in Lethbridge before moving to Medicine Hat for Game 3 Thursday, then Game 4 Friday if necessary. Game 5 would be Saturday at Spitz Stadium as well. All start times are 7:05 p.m.

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