By Sean Rooney on August 11, 2018.
Up in the press box before the biggest game of his Western Major Baseball League career, Colton Wright was hot.
Not temperature hot, like the 40-plus Celsius weather for Friday’s Game 5 at Athletic Park. Mad hot, outraged that his Medicine Hat Mavericks were even needing a deciding game in their semifinal series with the Edmonton Prospects.
“The hatred for this team is definitely deep,” said the Surrey, B.C. native a few hours later. “Being here for two years, seeing them excited to go and play in the finals, we wanted to be there.”
Wright’s three-run home run off Prospects ace Rich Walker was the exclamation point in an 11-4 win for the home team, advancing them to the WMBL finals against the Regina Red Sox.
That best-of-five series will start Sunday night, 7:05 p.m. with Alex Dafoe on the mound for the Mavs.
A night after losing their first chance at the series win on a wild pitch in the 10th inning in Edmonton, Medicine Hat showed up determined. They’d lost to Edmonton in each of the previous two seasons, seen their summer end on Aug. 10 each of the past three years and made no bones about wanting to vanquish some demons for the franchise.
“It’s big, we wanted it. We wanted revenge, we wanted to face them to go to the championship,” said Louie Canjura, who had a hit and two runs.
For the third straight game the Prospects opened the scoring, with Michael Gahan doubling home Tony Olson in the top of the first inning.
Walker, with a perfect game and two other shutouts to his credit this summer, was in a good position. But he fell backwards trying to field a David Salgueiro ground ball, grabbed his leg and the Mavs seemed to smell blood in the proverbial water.
“They’re deserving champions,” said Edmonton head coach Ray Brown. “I guess two out of three isn’t bad.
“We wish them all the best, I think if we win they wish us all the best. But out here it’s war, that’s how we both play.”
Walker was pulled after 1 1/3 innings following Wright’s shot. The Mavs put up seven runs in the frame, the same number Edmonton scored in an inning en route to taking Game 2 Tuesday.
The Prospects made it interesting, loading the bases in the third with nobody out. But second baseman Nolan Rattai leapt to rob Daylen Calicdan, then dove to the base to double off AJ Nitzschke who had taken a step too many towards third. Reliever Ryan Czanstkowski then struck out Zane Takhar to end the threat.
Hat starter Jaymon Cervantes didn’t make it out of the third, leaving the bullpen to go the rest of the way. Czanstkowski went four scoreless innings, Sean Cruz went two and Tyler Shumpert threw the ninth, striking out Mathieu Brisson to cue a celebration on the infield.
Luck was on the home team’s side too. With a crowd of 1,154 looking on and the bases loaded in the Mavs fourth, Jaxson Hooge hit a hot shot to third base that Gahan dove to snag. But Gahan threw high and Hooge was safe. Canjura was then caught off second, but in the rundown the Prospects fielder slipped as Rattai bolted for home. The three-run inning all but ended any thoughts of a comeback.
“We have a great defence,” said Canjura. “For playoffs, pitching and defence usually wins games. We’re just doing the same thing we do every day.”
Even the mayflys, which began to descend in the sixth inning, let up a bit by the time the game ended at around 10:30 p.m.
The focus now turns to Regina, which went 26-21 in the regular season before knocking off two-time defending champion Swift Current, then Eastern Division regular season winner Weyburn in the playoffs. The Red Sox last made the final in 2015 and last won the title in Medicine Hat in 2012. Current head coach Mitch MacDonald played on the 2012 team.
Games 1 and 2 of the finals are Sunday and Monday in Medicine Hat, with Games 3 and 4 Tuesday and Wednesday in Regina. Game 5 would be next Thursday, if necessary.
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