It’s rarely a good thing when a baseball pitcher gets sent to the showers. Ah, but when the shower comes to the pitcher, that’s another matter.
After the Parksville Royals secured the final out in their 3-2 playoff victory over the Victoria Mariners at Springwood Park Sunday, July 16, closer Robinder Dhut and catcher Spencer Walton met halfway between the mound and the plate for a celebratory leap and embrace.
At which point the pair were promptly doused by the team water bucket, wielded by teammate Finn Martin.
“It was the best feeling I’ve ever had as a Parksville Royal,” said Dhut, a third-year player who earned the save with a perfect seventh inning in relief of starter Josh Laukkanen.
With the win the Royals claimed the best-of-3 playoff series, 2-1, and earned their first trip to the B.C. Premier Baseball League Final Five championship tournament this weekend in Port Coquitlam.
Parksville will open the championships Thursday with a 7 p.m. game against regular-season champion North Shore at Mundy Field, then play two games Friday, against the Abbotsford Cardinals and the Langley Blaze, before closing the round-robin against tournament host Coquitlam Saturday at 4 p.m.
The Royals, who were no-hit by Victoria pitcher Fynn Chester in Saturday’s second game, earned both of their playoff series wins in come-from-behind fashion.
In Saturday’s 6-3 victory in the series opener, Parksville trailed 3-2 entering the bottom of the eighth inning before rallying behind Walton’s ground-rule double and Shane Rogers’ walk-off, bases-loaded home run.
On Sunday, the two reversed their roles.
With the Royals trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Walton drove a pitch into the wind blowing out to right field. The hit may not have needed the wind. The ball sailed high and deep and bounced off of the roof of the batting cage beyond the wall for a one-out, solo home run that tied the game.
One out later, Cam MacNeil beat out an infield single to bring Rogers to the plate with two out. Rogers worked the count full, then belted a deep drive that fell just out of the reach of lunging Mariners centre fielder Dylan Price near the wall in right-centre field. MacNeil raced around to score the winning run on Rogers’s second double of the game and was mobbed at the plate by cheering teammates.
“It seems like I got lucky a couple of times on the weekend,” said Rogers. “I had no idea (the ball would fall in); I thought it was a fly ball to the centre fielder. But it kept carrying.”
Rogers’ clutch hit made a winner of Royals starter Josh Laukkanen, who was touched for two unearned runs on a walk, a single and two errors as Parksville got off to a shaky start. But Laukkanen settled in to throw six innings without allowing another hit, and his defence did not make another error.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before,” Laukkanen said of the clinching playoff win. “We’ve been doing it all year, coming from behind. Near the end I was hanging on, but I stuck with it and the guys got some timely outs.”
Laukkanen finished with five strikeouts while walking three batters. The last Victoria baserunner, who drew a walk in the top of the sixth, was erased on an attempted steal by Walton’s throw to second.
“He locked it in and clutched up for us; he gave us a chance,” Walton said of Laukkanen’s performance. “He pitched his heart out. It was a great game.”
With Victoria starter Liam Kruse limiting the hosts to a single hit, the Mariners carried that 2-0 lead into the fifth inning before the Royals began their comeback. With one out, MacNeil was hit by a pitch and advance to third when Rogers doubled to left field. Nolan Baker then lofted a sacrifice fly to left field to chase home MacNeil and cut the Mariners’ lead to 2-1.
Rogers was left stranded at third, but would have one more chance to make an impact the next inning and made the most of it.
Then it was time for Dhut to come on and finish what Laukkanen started on the mound. He got the first batter on a routine grounder, struck out the next Mariners hitter, then spun and watched after Victoria’s Nick Lee rapped a sharp grounder up the middle.
Rogers, whose first-inning error had helped the Mariners to their early lead in the game, tracked the ball down and, throwing across his body, delivered a high but straight throw to first that MacNeil hauled in to put out Lee and touch off a wild celebration in the infield.
“I got lucky again,” a grinning Rogers said with a shrug.
Assistant coach Connor Russell said it took more that luck for the Parksville squad to close out the series and move on to the league’s championship tournament after five straight last-place finishes in BCPBL league play.
“We’re a good team and we stuck together ‘til the end there and found a way to win,” said Russell. “We have a good group of guys; they’re all brothers to each other. They’re willing to do anything it takes to win. That’s what we did this weekend and hopefully we can carry that into the final tournament.”