By SEAN ROONEY on July 12, 2019.
In most seasons the Medicine Hat Mavericks would merely be fighting for playoff position in July.
Thanks to a slow start and improved parity in the Western Canadian Baseball League’s Western Division, the last few weeks of the regular season are shaping up to be more interesting than usual.
The Mavericks beat the Lethbridge Bulls 8-6 Thursday at Athletic Park, improving to 16-18 while the Bulls fell to 17-17. With 15-17 Fort McMurray and 15-20 Edmonton all within two games of each other, however, one of them won’t get to the post-season.
“We were saying earlier today, this is as tight a division as we’ve ever seen,” said Bulls coach Jesse Sawyer. “It’s so tight, so competitive. Every night you’re playing a west team it’s going to be a battle.”
After beating division-leading Okotoks Wednesday, the Mavs continued to benefit from aggressive play. Down 4-3 in the sixth they loaded the bases on Bulls starting pitcher Logan Bexten, got a sacrifice fly to score one then used aggressive baserunning to give them the lead for the last time.
Nolan Rattai scampered home from third and beat the tag on what started as a standard fielder’s choice play at second base.
Collin Klingensmith scored from second on a Freddy Walker single to centre-field, the throw beating him but catcher Jaret Semeniuk unable to corral it.
“That’s what it takes, especially when we struggled in the first part of the season,” said Walker, who went 2-for-4. “You don’t want to be timid, you don’t want to play on your heels… that’s what we’re going to keep trying to do.”
Neither team’s starters had great nights, Bexten hurt by two errors behind him and Medicine Hat’s Jaymon Cervantes walking five in 6 1/3 innings, including three in a two-run Bulls first inning. MVP candidate Kaleb Warden smacked his eighth home run of the season off Cervantes in the fifth inning, a two-run shot to left-centre field, then two more Cervantes walks in the seventh resulted in a run.
But the home side kept pushing in front of an announced crowd of 894 fans, winding up with the win. Derek Eubanks finished the seventh, then all-star Flynn Ridley threw a perfect eighth. Russell Strilchuck boldly went first to third on a Wright single in the eighth, then Walker drove them both in with a double down the right-field line.
Ridley finished his second inning of work by getting Warden to ground into a double play, then coaxing a fly out for the save. Cervantes earned the win and Bexten took the loss.
“You’ve got to play the game, take the opportunities that present themselves,” said Mavs assistant coach Fehlant Lehntini, adding he’s not worried about the standings quite yet. “That’s all we’ve been trying to do.”
Medicine Hat now starts a three-game series with 10-24 Brooks, which started the season well but has faded recently due to a lack of pitching. The teams play at Brooks tonight, return to the Gas City Saturday night (for a special Christmas in July event benefiting the Santa Claus Fund), then wind up Sunday back in Brooks.
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