Pitching staff comes together in the end

Baseball: Dawgs have third-lowest ERA in league

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014 11:28 am

Okotoks Dawgs hurler Anthony Willeford pitches versus the Yorkton Cardinals on July 26. Willeford and the Dawgs pitching staff boast the third lowest ERA in the WMBL.
Okotoks Dawgs hurler Anthony Willeford pitches versus the Yorkton Cardinals on July 26. Willeford and the Dawgs pitching staff boast the third lowest ERA in the WMBL.
Remy Greer/OWW

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The Okotoks Dawgs are well-armed going into the playoffs — and they are more than ready to get in an arms race.

“As we go into the playoffs it’s all hands on deck — Game 1 we will figure out who is the freshest,” said Dawgs coach Brett Thomas. “Whoever doesn’t pitch Game 1, will probably in Game 2 and so on.”

The Dawgs pitching staff started the season with an ERA that looked like a Toronto Stock Exchange report the numbers were so high. However, by season’s end Okotoks had whittled its ERA down to 4.12 the third lowest in the Western Major Baseball League.

Right now, Thomas has a full-deck. Starting pitchers Tyrell King, Chris Sievers, Jon Richards, Anthony Willeford and Conor Lillis-White have had their best performances of the year in recent outings.

King has led the staff. His record is 4-2 and a 2.11 ERA after taking the loss in a 50-pitch-count abbreviated game to Medicine Hat on Monday.

He opened the season with an 8-4 loss to Swift Current on June 14 — and took ownership of it with his teammates.

“I told myself and the team that won’t happen again — it’s not the kind of pitcher I am,” the six-foot-four southpaw said. “I told them to expect better from me and that is what they did… It’s a huge trust thing.”

He said the pitching staff has stuck together through thick an thin.

“We all trust each other from the front end to the back end,” King said. “We now have the third lowest ERA in the league — a month ago we might have been the worst.

“We are only as strong as our worst pitcher — and no one on this team wants to be the worst pitcher.”

King is expected to be on the bump when the Dawgs open the first round of playoffs against the first-place Lethbridge Bulls on Friday in the ’Bridge.

“Tyrell has been outstanding,” Thomas said. “He’s got some good sink to his fastball — he throws around the knees. He’s got a good breaking ball and change-up.

“He’s confident and super competitive. He could be pitching against Moose Jaw or he could be up against the Yankees, he would have the same demeanour.”

The Dawgs will likely give the ball to Sievers for Game 2 Saturday in Lethbridge.

Sievers has been the Dawgs’ workhorse. He has pitched a team high 55 1/3 innings, with a 3-3 record and a 3.23 ERA.

“I mentally and physically prepare myself to throw a lot of pitches and go into late innings,” said Sievers, the only right-hander of the five. “I always had a big pitch count when I was younger and that helped me get stronger.

“Getting more accurate and filling up the strike zone has helped me build my stamina.”

He’s a pitcher Thomas will use in any role. Sievers was used in the bottom of the ninth to save a game for Lillis-White in Swift Current on Thursday.

Three days later, the durable Sievers pitched six innings as he and relievers Shaun Meyer and Travis McDonald outdueled the Edmonton Prospects Noah Gapp for a 2-1 victory.

“Anytime I can get an outing, it’s wonderful,” Sievers said. “I tell coach every day, ‘Hey if you need me, you need me. I’m ready to go.”

He is looking forward to his start in the playoffs.

“I would like to have more consistency going into the playoffs, I know that will come, I’m not worried,” he said.

Bespectacled southpaw Jon Richards looks like he should be teaching at Sonoma State in California rather than pitching. However, he’s proved to be a bit of a proffesor on the mound. He leads the Dawgs with five wins to go with his four losses.

“I wouldn’t say it’s my accomplishment — I have good defence behind me,” Richards said. “I’m not overpowering, I might trick some people once and a while, but I allow my defence to make some plays behind me.”

Richards was on the bump when the Dawgs beat the Yorkton Cardinals 12-3 Friday night in Okotoks. He pitched seven innings before handing the ball to the bullpen. He agrees the entire pitching staff has gotten stronger after the Dawgs’ woeful 2-9 start to the season.

“Earlier in the season we might not have had the confidence that we do now,” Richards said. “Going through some games at the beginning helped us later on in tough situations later in the season.”

Richards has also seen some action in relief. He doesn’t know his role yet against the Bulls.

“I don’t worry about it,” he said. “If I can help my team win, that is pretty much what I have to do.”

The left-handed Willeford finished the season at 2-1 after joining the team in mid June. He had an impressive outing in going seven innings in a 3-2 victory over Yorkton on Saturday.

“I feel good going into the playoffs and every one of our pitchers has gotten better since the start of the season,” Willeford said.

His season was hampered as he was one of several Dawgs who caught the flu bug in July.

He feels he matches up well against the Bulls.

“Last time I faced them they had a lot of lefties which works out well for me,” Willeford said. “If I can keep the ball down, it works out well for me.”

Lillis-White has won his last two games to improve his record to 3-2 after struggling for much of the season. The starters are also getting some relief as the bullpen is also starting to hit its stride.

“We’ve had some guys who have really stepped up for us,” Thomas said. “Liam Stroud has been outstanding the last week and half. Shawn Andersen gave us five or six scoreless innings last week.”

A guy from south of the Tropic of Capricorn has been the Dawgs’ closer of late.

Travis McDonald, the southpaw Australian attending the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, picked up a pair of saves in two one-run victories last week.

“In two games, both one run games, he came in the eighth and picked up the saves,” Thomas said. “That was big for us – they were two huge situations.”

The opening round of the playoffs start in the Bridge on Friday and Saturday. Game 3 and 4 are at Seaman Stadium on Sunday and Monday. Game 5 would be back in Lethbridge on Tuesday.

All games are scheduled for 7 p.m.

For more information go to wmbl.ca


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