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Express set for first-round series with Regina Red Sox

Opening contest set for Thursday night in Regina, game two goes Friday at Ross Wells Park
Express SC Ross
Michael Ross and the Moose Jaw Miller Express open the WCBL playoffs in Regina tonight.
Before we get into a preview of the first round Western Canadian Baseball League playoff series between the Moose Jaw Miller Express and Regina Red Sox, the elephant in the room has to be addressed.

Yes, Express head coach Rich Sorenson has largely recovered from the appendicitis attack the necessitated emergency surgery in mid-July and expects to be on the sidelines throughout the post-season for the local squad.

“I’ve been up and down, yesterday I felt really rough, but today I feel much better,” Sorenson said during the team’s awards night on Tuesday. “The days I don’t have to actually work on the field and all that, I feel better, and hopefully tomorrow once I’ve had a bit of sleep it’ll be better still.

“The people here have been fantastic, I’ve a lot of support and now I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in the playoffs.”

Okay, now on to the games.

The Express open the quarter-final series tonight in Regina and, on paper, would appear to be in for a tough time – the Red Sox finished in first place in the Eastern Division with a 41-15 record, 15 games ahead of Moose Jaw’s 26-30 mark that saw them finish comfortably in fourth place.

However, of those 15 losses, three of them are to the Express — the two teams were 3-3 head-to-head — and two of those came only a couple of weeks ago as the season wrapped up.

That’s one reason the local squad is optimistic heading into the best-of-three series, despite recording only a pair of wins in their last eight games and losing their final six.

“I’m excited about the way we have it set up,” Sorenson said. “The last four or five days we’ve kind of had to piece it together, try and finish up the season, but I was really happy with the way we played… We made sure everyone had some playing time, we had guys in different positions, everyone got some swings and most importantly, we’re healthy. We’re not a deep team numbers-wise, so the major goal was to make sure we were healthy going into the playoffs and we were able to do that. Now we’re really excited with how things are looking.”

That’s in no small part due to the way their starting pitching shakes out. The Express plan to go with ace Matt Jackson in the opener, likely going head-to-head with Red Sox standout Michael Batten, who won the WCBL pitching triple crown after leading the league in ERA, wins, and strikeouts.

Jackson was on the mound for the Express’ 6-2 win on July 24, giving up six hits and a single earned run in eight innings work to earn the victory. Batten, meanwhile, faced Moose Jaw on Aug. 2 in a 12-2 Regina win, tossing six innings and giving up a single run on three hits while striking out 11.

“I don’t think there’s any question that pitching-wise, we match up with anyone at the top end, I really do feel that way,” Sorenson said, adding that the plan is to go with their best line-up from top to bottom, which includes moving Michael Ross into a relief role and having late-inning specialists Jaden Hofmann and Jack Gamba waiting in the wings

“In these short series, we don’t have to have a long leash, we can get guys ready to go and with the days off we’ve had everyone should be fresh and ready,” Sorenson said.

Having faced each other six times already this season, the two teams are plenty familiar with one another, which made for some interesting decisions in the late-season match-ups.

“We didn’t show very much the last couple of weeks, we didn’t do anything like stealing or hit and runs, it was like ‘you know what, they don’t need to see that,’” Sorenson said. “So we’ll have some stuff we bring in at practice (Wednesday), some plays that might help, but other than that it’s mano on mano, we just play the game and go from there.”

The series reverts to Moose Jaw for Game 2 on Friday (7 p.m., Ross Wells), with Game 3 back in Regina on Saturday if necessary.

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