The Trail U18 Orioles made a remarkable run at the U18 BC Minor Baseball Championship.
The Orioles were one run away from making it to the final match, but fell to the North Fraser Nationals 3-2 in extra-innings in the tie-breaker semifinal on Sunday, July 24 at Fairfield Island Park in Chilliwack.
“We are pretty proud of the kids,” said head coach Jim Maniago. “We’ve been on the road the last three weeks and faced a tough travel schedule, a struggle to find hotels, a very tough draw this past weekend, home-town calls going the other way, a short bench compared to the other teams, and injuries.
“It would have been easy for them to roll over but they never did. They all stuck together and fought right down to the last play.”
The Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning, but the Nationals clawed back one in the fifth and another in the sixth to tie it.
North Fraser had a chance to win it in the bottom of seven, leading off with a double, then advancing the runner to third with a sacrifice bunt.
With one out, the Orioles intentionally walked the next two batters to load the bases. The tactical maneuver worked as the following batter flew out to left-fielder Scott McLaren who made the catch and threw to the cutoff man.
The Nationals runner on second tagged up and began running to third, but the runner at third held the base, leaving the player caught in a run down for the double play.
Trail had their chances, putting the go ahead run on at second base in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings but couldn’t execute. Ultimately, back-to-back doubles by the Nationals in the bottom of the eighth gave them the 3-2 victory.
“Owen Dickson pitched the whole game in a gutty performance from a first year kid,” said Maniago. “He calmly pitched out of a couple jams and gave us a chance to win.”
Offensively, Jake Maniago, Reid Gerrand and Nathan O’Brien all had two hits in their last game as an Oriole.
Trail was seeded seventh heading into the first round of the College Prep Division playoff, travelling to Cloverdale July 17-18 to play the number-2 seed in a best-of-three series.
The Orioles split the first two games but won the the deciding Game 3 in a 6-1 drubbing to book their spot into the provincial final.
The Orioles then joined top seed Chilliwack, #4 Kamloops, and #6 North Fraser, who had all advanced from their own playoff, at the BC Championship.
Trail opened the playoff round robin against the Kamloops River Dogs with a 7-3 victory. Orioles pitcher Jake Maniago earned the win, pitching three scoreless innings before handing the ball over to Logan Bradford who pitched two and 2/3. Nathan Dann came on for the final four outs and the save, stranding the River Dogs with the bases loaded in the bottom of seven.
Landon Uzeloc went 3-for-4 at the plate and Kullen Benbow was 2-for-3.
“It was a tight game until the fifth when we scored four to open up a 2-2 game,” said Maniago. “We capitalized on five errors and executed our bunts and steals and played the small-ball game well.
“It was huge to get off to a good start to the weekend and build some confidence.”
The Orioles teed off against North Fraser in Game 2 and lost 7-4.
“It was the one game that we didn’t play well. We left 12 runners on base and just couldn’t cash in when we had chances and they seemed to find every hole and jump on every mistake we made.”
Jake Maniago went the distance and took the loss. Dann was 4-for-4 at the plate with a double and triple, and Connor Stainer and Dickson both had two hits. The Orioles were also without injured infielder Uzeloc, which left a big hole in their lineup and on defence.
The 1-1 Orioles then played their final game of the round robin versus the top seed, Chilliwack, on Saturday night in front of their hometown fans.
“It was an emotional, heated game and one to remember,” said Maniago.
The Cougars scored four in the first inning to take a commanding lead. But instead of folding, the Orioles came back swinging, scoring 10 runs in the top of the second inning.
“We strung together nine hits along with a couple errors and a hit batter and they didn’t know what hit them,” said Maniago.
Chilliwack chipped away and made it 10-9 in the fifth, when Dann came on in relief. The right-hander left two guys on to get the last out and then proceeded to shut the Cougars down in the sixth and seventh for the unlikely 10-9 Trail victory.
Uzeloc, Maniago, Dickson, Benbow, O’Brien and Gerrand all had two hits.
In an unfortunate display of poor sportsmanship, Maniago said Chilliwack chose not to shake hands with the Orioles at the end of the match.
The Orioles win set up a three-way tie for first after the round robin. Chilliwack had the best run differential so they earned the bye to the final, setting up the Trail-North Fraser tie breaker.
“In the end, finishing third and the top Interior team once again was a great outcome,” said Maniago. “Every other team has paid coaching staffs, draw from a much larger population and larger pool of kids, but we continue to show that our program is more than competitive.
“We got better as the year went on and easily could have won the whole thing. Our top players are among the best in the league, where we lack is maybe in depth, but we make up for it with character.”
The North Fraser Nationals went on to win the championship with a 5-1 victory over the Chilliwack Cougars.