Dawgs wrap historic season in first place
Baseball: Okotoks takes on Edmonton in first-round playoff series
Monday, Jul 31, 2017 06:00 am
The Okotoks Dawgs’ 10th anniversary season may just have been its best.
Okotoks capped a historic regular season at Seaman Stadium on Sunday in picking up its franchise best 35th win of the campaign, finishing with the top record in the Western Major Baseball League.
“It’s a pretty special team,” said fifth-year Dawgs outfielder Brendan Rose. “The atmosphere around the team is the most special thing about it. The more you love to be on the field, the better you will do. It’s a long season, 48 games and to have a team that wants to be here every single day goes a long way in winning baseball games.”
That’s something the Dawgs did with regularity.
Okotoks’ 35 wins is second most in WMBL history.
Following a strong opening month, the Dawgs scorched opposition in July in posting a 20-4 record on the backs of two seven-game winning streaks.
Okotoks went out swinging in the regular season finale, erasing a four-run deficit to dispatch the Fort McMurray Giants 12-8 while raising $25,000 in the pink jersey auction for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.
It’s the second-straight season the Dawgs have finished first in the West, but the similarities might end there.
“The friendships, all the communication skills that we have, we’re just a real team,” said second-year Dawgs pitcher Anthony Balderas. “It’s kind of hard to find that in summer ball. You find guys trying to do individual things.
“We all go out together and do everything together as a team whereas last year we had a few guys that liked to do their own thing.”
The top-seeded Dawgs square off with a familiar foe in round one of the playoffs this week.
Okotoks gets another shot at fourth seed Edmonton after the Prospects eliminated the Dawgs in upset fashion in last summer’s first round series.
“Everybody wants to beat the Dawgs. We came in as the fourth seed and had that Cinderella story,” said Dawgs first baseman Kody Funderburk, a member of the Prospects last season. “Those guys are a bunch of grinders. Okotoks has the most talent, but they (the Prospects) don’t care. They’re going to come after you with everything you’ve got.
“I’m super excited to play them and hopefully we can take them out.”
The six-foot-four first baseman shattered the Dawgs single season franchise mark with two more long bombs on Sunday finishing with 15 home runs while driving in seven more runs to top the WMBL with 55 RBI.
As a team, Okotoks obliterated its team home run totals this season with 50 on the campaign.
“When I found out I broke the record in Brooks at nine I was cool at 10,” the Arizona native said. “Luckily, I ran into a couple more balls and two more today. That’s a lot though, you walk into the fieldhouse and see all the big league names and none of these guys got 15 and I have. “It’s a pretty big confidence booster.”
Dawgs infielder Matt Lloyd won’t be lacking in that department after finishing the year with the batting crown.
The Okotokian finished with a league best .407 batting average to form a dynamic duo in the middle of the line-up with the powerful Funderburk.
“They hit in the middle of the order, Matt Lloyd has been one of the best players I’ve ever been around or coached,” said Dawgs manager Tyler Graham. “He’s the heart and soul of the team. Kody right behind him led the league in RBI and home runs.
“Without those two, we’re not the same team.”
It was far from a two-man show at the diamond.
Okotoks’ depth shone through all season leading to its best home run, RBI and runs totals in the last seven seasons.
“Top to bottom our guys are great baseball players and go about the game the right way,” Rose said. “This place is pretty special, you just want to play as long as you can this summer and everyone deserves a title, the fans, the town, everyone works so hard.”
Balderas will get the ball in the playoff opener followed by Justin Vernia, southpaw Graham Brunner and righty Jack Rupe in the playoff rotation.
The best-of-five opening round series opens with two games in Okotoks on Aug. 1 and 2, both are 7:05 p.m. starts.
Should the series go the full five games, Game 5 would be back at Seaman Stadium on Aug. 5.
For more information go to dawgsbaseball.ca