The North Shore Twins are regular season champs in the B.C. Premier Baseball League, finishing off the season with a stellar 34-10 record.
That mark earned them the top seed heading into this weekend’s opening playoff round where they’ll host the Okanagan Athletics in a best-of-three series at Parkgate Park.
“We had a bunch of goals this year, and that was one of them,” head coach Brooks McNiven said of taking the league title. “The boys were pretty happy. … Obviously we want to win the playoffs too, but winning the league is over a greater number of games and shows the consistency that we’ve been playing with.”
The Twins were powered much of the season by an unique 1-2 punch up the middle of the field, with shortstop Steve Moretto and second baseman Alec Cumming combining to play stellar defence while also leading the way with their bats.
Moretto, the team’s captain, is rounding out an incredible youth sports career that saw him star at Notre Dame Secondary where he quarterbacked the football team to the provincial final and also started at point guard for the basketball team.
“If that doesn’t scream athleticism, I don’t know what does,” said McNiven. “He’s been unreal in the field playing shortstop for us every day. He’s so consistent, he makes every play. He’s a leader on the field, he makes everybody else around him better, and it’s shown. Defensively I think we’re tops in the league – a lot of that has to do with him being a leader and pushing the other guys around him to become better.”
He also leads the team in runs scored, runs batted in, doubles, home runs, and is second in stolen bases. Cumming, Moretto’s double-play partner, is no slouch either, leading the team in hits and steals and placing second in runs from his spot as the leadoff hitter.
“We weren’t really sure at the start of the season who our leadoff hitter was going to be and he’s kind of grabbed that role and hasn’t given it up,” said McNiven of Cumming, a West Vancouver resident who attends Sentinel Secondary. “Since Game 1 he’s been unbelievable defensively. He and Steve make an excellent combo. Alec has been a great leadoff hitter as well. He finds a way to get on, he can steal bases, he can bunt. He can do all the things you’re looking for as a leadoff hitter. It’s really nice to have a guy like him kind of setting the table for the other guys.”
Getting that kind of production from middle infielders is a huge boost to the team, said McNiven.
“You don’t typically get that. You look at those guys who are middle infielders and they’re usually more defensive positions. To have them be the 1-2 guys in the order, kind of kick-starting the offence, it’s a pretty special combo that’s for sure.”
The meat of the order also comes from the infield, with catcher Noah Or and first baseman Marshall Hogan, a Seycove Secondary student, putting up big numbers as well. The Twins have also made use of impressive depth this season to keep up their torrid pace, said McNiven.
“We’ve been riddled with injuries throughout the season,” he said. “We were excited with the depth when we picked the team and it’s been the depth that has saved us throughout this year. If we didn’t have that depth there’s no way we would have been able to end up with the record we had. It goes to show the quality of baseball players we have on the 21-man roster.”
That depth shone brightest on the mound, where the Twins were strong despite missing their two top arms for much of the year. Jack DeCooman and Sam Shoemaker both are members of the junior national team. Shoemaker missed much of the year with injury, while DeCooman spent several weeks during the season playing with Team Canada. Both are back now and ready to roll with the Twins, joining a pitching corps that has been led by Cole Dalla-Zanna and Declan Dutton.
“We’re getting our arms back, which is coming at the right time,” said McNiven. “It’ll be really nice coming into the playoffs to have those guys. There’s an old saying – you can never have enough pitching. And certainly when you get into a playoff series and possibly the final four tournament and things like that, you can never have enough. It’s nice to have all those guys back.”
That the first-place Twins are just now getting close to full strength could be bad news for the rest of the league.
“This is really the closest we’ve been now to having everybody healthy the entire year,” said McNiven. “There were a lot of guys who were asked to step up and fill in and take on bigger roles than we anticipated this year, and they’ve been excellent. Now we’re going into playoffs and it’s nice that we have lots of options.”
Now nearly fully armed and ready, the Twins will still have their hands full during their three-game series against the Athletics. Okanagan comes into the playoffs as the league’s second-hottest team, having won eight of their last 10 contests.
“They’re very good, and we’re going to have to be very good to beat them. It’s going to be a tough series this weekend,” said McNiven. “They’re a scrappy team, they have some very good players. … They just find a way to win. There’s not a lot of flash there but they’re very well coached and they’re always a tough opponent.”
McNiven, however, has confidence in his squad, comparing this team favourably to the Twins team that won the double, claiming both the league and playoff titles in 2015.
“I think it’s very comparable to that team that we won with a couple of years ago, but we’ll see how the playoffs go,” said McNiven, adding that the team will lean on the strategy preached by legendary Twins coach John Haar, a Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame member who is now the director of baseball operations and player development for the Twins.
“That’s the John Haar thing: pitching and defence wins championships,” said McNiven. “That’s how he’s always coached the Twins and we’ve just tried to follow that.”
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This weekend’s best-of-three series is tentatively scheduled to begin with a doubleheader Saturday starting at noon. Game 3, if necessary, is scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m. All games will be held at Parkgate Park in North Vancouver. Visit bcpbl.com for updated results and confirmed schedules.