IN spring, the end of baseball season is a long ways away but if a team gets off to a slow start that finish line can race closer and closer with each mounting loss.
The North Shore Twins lost their opening two B.C. Premier Baseball League games on the road in Langley last weekend and, playing a tough Coquitlam Reds squad in their home opener Tuesday night, they were facing down an 0-3 start to the year. The season wasn't exactly on the line for the Twins but 0-3 is a tough hole to climb out of even in the marathon chase of baseball. In each of the two opening games the Twins had trouble scoring runs and on Tuesday night the scoreboard was again fairly empty. An RBI single from Louis Boyd in the third gave the Twins a 1-0 lead but the Reds evened things up in the top of the fifth. With runs hard to come by the Twins needed to find some offence and they did, putting together rallies in the bottom of the fifth and sixth to score once in each inning and claw out a 3-1 win. Boyd again did the damage in the fifth with an RBI single while starting pitcher Clark Grisbrook helped himself with an RBI single for the insurance run in the sixth.
The Reds made it interesting in the top of the seventh, loading the bases with one out, but reliever Kyle Olver came in to get a strikeout and groundout to seal the win and allow the Twins a few sighs of relief.
"It's great to get the win," head coach Larson Bauck. "It takes a lot of the pressure off the guys. You start the season 0-3 - they're young kids, it's easy for them to press the panic button."
The win had a little extra meaning for the Twins as well - last summer the Reds won two straight games to sweep the Twins out of the opening round of the playoffs. The stakes weren't nearly as high on Tuesday but it was nice for the North Shore team to measure up against one of last year's top clubs.
"Any time you get beat out of the playoffs it's a frustrating loss and it's the end of your season and it's a crusher," said Bauck. "But to win early and to beat them early is a good start for us, now we've got three more times to get 'em again."
Though there wasn't an offensive explosion in the game against Coquitlam, the Twins did make solid contact on a lot of pitches and were a bit unlucky not to score more. Through their first three games they've only scored four runs but Bauck said he was confident the bats would heat up soon.
"Confidence is crucial for these young guys but at the end of the day we just need to put some more good at bats together and we'll be fine," he said. "I don't think offence will be a struggle for us. We've got some guys who can swing the bat. We've got some guys who are underachieving now but we'll put the work in and we'll get some at bats put together. Hitting is contagious."
Shortstop Boyd and third baseman Lachlan Fontaine are two players back from last year's squad who are expected to lead the club on defence and at the plate.
"Our left side is dynamic both defensively and offensively," said Bauck. "Louis Boyd and Lachlan Fontaine are both top echelon players in the league and they're expected to carry most of the load defensively and offensively. So far they've been OK - Lachlan has been great at the dish and really great defensively and Louis has been fighting it a little bit offensively but he got a big hit tonight, which is good. Hopefully he can build off that and continue it."
While the Twins wait for the bats to heat up their pitching and defence is already on fire - they've given up just four runs in their first three games. Olver, Jordan Kellof and Grisbrook have all put together strong starts to open the year. Olver and Kellof were two of the team's top starters last season and they're expected to be a potent 1-2 punch again this season.
"(Olver) is definitely our ace, he's our go-to," said Bauck. "He starts it and then Jordan comes in with a total different look. Both of them are very tough on hitters. Kyle's got a swing and miss slider and a fastball that gets in on guys pretty good and Jordan is a sinkerball pitcher with an outstanding changeup. You throw those guys game 1, game 2 it gives hitters a different look and it's tough to square 'em up. They're always going to give us a chance to win every night."
That strong pitching combined with good defence and the expectation of more hitting has Bauck hoping his club gets back to the league's final four championship, a tournament they haven't played in since former coach John Haar led them to three straight BCPBL titles from 2007 to 2009.
"I expect to be in the top-5 in the league for sure. But in saying that, kids are kids and you never know," said Bauck with a laugh. "It'd be nice to get back to the final four. Ever since John left we haven't really made an appearance in the final four, so that's crucial to get back there and get the Twins to where they should be and I think this is the year to do that."
The chase continues today with a doubleheader against the Victoria Mariners, a team that the Twins have butted heads with several times before.
"Every year it seems we empty the benches against the Victoria Mariners," said Bauck. "They like to talk a lot for sure. It's going to be 'game on' on Sunday, they really like to yip at you. At the end of the day the kids like to get up for it. It's always interesting."
The doubleheader between the Twins and Mariners starts today at North Vancouver's Parkgate Park. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.