The North Shore Twins lost a playoff doubleheader to the Coquitlam Reds Saturday, ending their season one step short of the B.C. Premier Baseball League championship final four.
The Twins were underdogs coming into the series, ranked seventh after the regular season and traveling to Coquitlam's Mundy Park for a best of three against the second-ranked Reds. Game 1 was over almost before it began with the Reds jumping out to a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the first and cruising to an 11-4 win. In game 2 the Twins put up a good fight with their season on the line but couldn't come up with the big hit in a 3-1 loss.
After the second loss the Twins met in leftfield as head coach Larson Bauck and director of baseball operations John Haar addressed the team for the final time in uniform this season.
"We didn't want to be gathering out there as having lost a doubleheader. That's the first thing. We came here to at least get a split and extend the season to tomorrow," said Haar, a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, as the players packed up around him. "When you lose it should hurt. I think it hurt all of us. You have to take that as a memory, what it feels like to lose and never forget that so that next time you get into that situation, maybe we can do a little bit better and turn the pain of a loss into the enjoyment of a victory a year down the road."
In the first game the twins sent Kyle Olver to the mound, a pitcher who, along with shortstop Louis Boyd, was recently named to Team B.C. for the 2011 Canada Cup tournament. The Twins picked up a run in the top of the first to lead 1-0 but the Reds took advantage of an error, a wild pitch, a walk and a hit batsmen in the bottom half of the inning to jump on Olver and the Twins with five runs on four hits.
"He's been money for us all year long and he just did not have it today," Bauck said of Olver. "That's tough for the kid. You want to go out there and give your team a chance to win and Kyle just didn't have his stuff. . . . He's a good pitcher and obviously his outing didn't reflect what he's done all year. Obviously frustrating for him and frustrating for the ball club."
The Reds put up another five runs in the fifth to put the game out of reach with Coquitlam's powerful lefty Matt Trimble getting the win and leadoff hitter Darren Honeysett leading the way at the plate with three hits, a walk, two runs and two RBI.
In game 2 the Twins sent team ace Alex Stewart to the mound hoping to earn a win and a return trip to Coquitlam for game 3 the next day. Game 2 looked like it might get out of hand as well with the Reds loading the bases with nobody out in the top of the first but Stewart fired a strikeout and then induced two fly balls to get out of the jam unscathed. Stewart faced trouble again in the third, giving up a leadoff double and a walk before striking out two straight batters to escape once more.
"He's a competitor," Bauck said. "He goes out there and gives you everything he has. He didn't have his A-game today but he battled for us and that's all you can ask of a guy."
In the bottom of the third the Twins looked ready to blow the game open, scoring their first run with an RBI single from Tanner Robertson knocking in Brandon Minhas. A double steal put runners on second and third with one out but Boyd's ripped liner went straight to Coquitlam's third baseman who stepped on his bag for an easy double play. It was a moment that defined the game, said Bauck.
"That's crucial," he said. "You hit a ball that hard and they double you off, it's very deflating. We just couldn't string it back together. We'd get the odd hit here or there, the odd walk, and couldn't string at bats together. At the end of the day it's not how many you get, it's when you get 'em - we just couldn't get that big hit today."
"That's the game of baseball," added Haar. "Sometimes the gods of baseball turn against you."
More hard luck struck the Twins in the fifth as the Reds scored the tying and go-ahead runs without hitting a ball out of the infield. Stewart struck out the first two batters of the inning but three walks, including one with the bases loaded, and two infield singles made the score 2-1.
"That's deflating," said Bauck. "You always want to sit there on the other side and say, 'Hey, make these guys earn it.' But it doesn't always happen."
Coquitlam added one more in the top of the seventh and Reds starter Dylan Remenyk finished off a complete game four hitter by retiring the side in the bottom of the seventh.
"They've got pretty good pitching," Bauck said about the Reds. "They've got some lefties over there - Trimble can overpower you, he throws strikes and is always in the strike zone. He's tough to hit. The second guy there, he just keeps you off-balance. He's a softie, he just changes it up and throws his little curveball for a strike. They didn't make many mistakes at all today. The one or two errors that they committed, we couldn't make that hurt."
Though they exited the playoffs early, the Twins did improve on their 2010 season in which they missed the postseason, ending a string of three consecutive BCP-
BL titles from 2007 to 2009.
"There were a lot of ups and downs - only a few times this year where they played to their full potential," said Bauck, summing up the 2011 campaign. "It's a step in the right direction to get the kids in the playoffs. It means a lot for the Grade 11 guys to know what it takes to get into the playoffs and how much of a grind the season is. That's going to help us out down the road, but at the end of the day sometimes you look at teams and you say to get into the playoffs just isn't enough. You want to get to the final four. That's always the goal, to get to the final four and then see what happens."
Senior standouts Stewart, Robertson and smooth-hitting second baseman Connor Grisbrook are moving on but the Twins will have a solid core back next year led by Boyd and third baseman Lachlan Fontaine in the field and starters Olver and Jordan Kellof on the mound.
"We've got some great young players, we've got some good pitching coming up and we've got some Grade 11 kids that are core spots kids," said Bauck. "It'll be a good baseball club next year. I'm looking forward to it."