Christian J. Stewart
The Victoria HarbourCats jumped out to a 4-1 lead and then hung on for a 4-3 victory over the BC Senior Men’s Provincial Champion Burnaby Bulldogs in an entertaining West Coast League exhibition game Saturday night in front of 3,296 fans at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria.
Fireworks, sponsored by Wallace Driving School, with Castle Home Builders and Christian J. Stewart Photography, punctuated the night.
Saturday’s game, as well as Sunday’s 1:05 pm start (the final afternoon game of the season) are serving as a preview for fans of the Baseball Canada Senior Men’s National Championships that will be played at RAP August 23-27th. The Burnaby Bulldogs will be at that tournament representing British Columbia and a number of “temporary” players on Saturday and Sunday’s HarbourCats rosters are likely to suit up for the Victoria Mavericks, the host team for that tournament.
Included in that mix are former HarbourCat Griffin Andreychuk, as well as former Victoria Seals (the City’s pro team tenant prior to the HarbourCats) Anthony Pluta and Charlie Strandlund, both of whom are now involved with the Victoria Eagles BC Premier League program. Also included on the ‘Cats roster Saturday were former Victoria Eagles Stephen Wade and Kobe Morris, as well as Junior Premier Victoria Mariner Zach Swanson, all of whom saw action in Saturday’s game.
The HarbourCats jumped into a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning off Burnaby starter Shawn Schaefer when a Sam Cachola single scored Connor Whitney, who led the game off with a double. They then added to that in the bottom of the second on a leadoff home run from Riley Zayicek.
Victoria added two more runs – the latter which proved to be the game winner – in the bottom of the seventh on a DJ Porter two-RBI single that scored Morris (fielder’s choice) and Andreychuk (single).
The Bulldogs, who had been held in check nicely by HarbourCats starter Ethan Skuija, finally got to the right-hander in the fourth inning on a Sean Hotzak RBI-Single that scored Jeff Bouchard (single).
Skuija would exit the game after five full innings (1R, 4H, 1BB, 3K) and then the HarbourCats bullpen, including Wade, Whitney and newcomer James Bradwell, held Burnaby scoreless and turned things over to former Seal Pluta for the ninth.
The 34-year old Pluta, who has not thrown a pitch in anger in over five years, can still top 90 miles per hour on the radar gun, but that did not seem to faze the Bulldogs as they got leadoff singles from Jaxon Valcke and Kyle McComb to kick the inning off. James Zamko then walked to load the bases and after a strikeout to Jordan Padrinao, Pluta surrendered a two-RBI single to Will Natransky to cut the lead to 4-3.
A single by Jeff Bouchard would load the bases again, with the tying run holding at third thanks to a great throw in to the cut-off by HarbourCats right fielder Swanson, but Pluta then got Jeff Thomas to strikeout and Braeden Allemen to ground into a fielder’s choice just in front of the plate to end the game and close out the tense 4-3 win.
Along with Porter’s two-RBI heroics and Zayicek’s home run, the HarbourCats received two-hit nights from Tucker Johnson and Cachola. Bouchard had a two-hit night for Burnaby, while Padrinao chipped in a double in the losing effort.
Skuija gets the win, while Schaefer takes the loss for the Bulldogs. Pluta gets the save and no doubt a week in bed to recover from his 28-pitch inning.
The teams will play game two of their exhibition set at 1:05 pm on Sunday. It is the last afternoon game of the season, so get your sun tan lotion out and come enjoy some baseball at the park. Radd Thomas is the probable starter for the HarbourCats. The Bulldogs have not announced their starter.