The Moose Jaw Miller Express are off to the Western Canadian Baseball League final for the first time in team history.
The Express advanced to the championship series with an 5-1 win in Game 3 of the East Division final on Sunday night and will face the West Division champion Okotoks Dawgs in the WCBL championship series beginning Tuesday in Okotoks.
The win Sunday night wasn’t without it’s share of drama though, as the Express broke open a 1-1 tie with four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, cracking another low-scoring battle with their always-potent offence.
“It’s so cool, we really came together as a team,” said Miller Express outfielder Nate Mensik, who was 3-for-4 with a two-run double in the seventh. “The first game we were struggling and it was ‘what’s going on, what’s happening’ but at the same time, we’ve done this all year. One bad game isn’t going to hurt us, we came back and did what we do.”
The Express lost Game 1 in dramatic fashion when a wild pitch by stalwart closer Reece Helland lead to the winning run scoring in a 2-1 loss. Moose Jaw bounced back in style, though, using a stellar start by Kellan Voggesser and a host of huge showings at the plate to take a 7-2 victory in Medicine Hat in Game 2.
Moose Jaw’s pitchers needed to be sharp again on Sunday, and they most certainly were. Cameron Dunn got the start and allowed one run on three hits in three innings before handing the ball over to Kaleb Waller.
The Moose Jaw Minor Baseball product and affiliated player from the 18U AAA Canucks was absolutely lights out, scattering five hits and holding the Mavericks scoreless over five innings, striking out four in the process.
“Oh man, I never expected this,” Waller said with a huge grin. “I got a text from [head coach] Eric [Marriott] the night before the first practice to come play on the team and I texted him back within 10 minutes and I was like ‘let’s do it’. And now I’m here doing this… I never thought I’d be here right now and it’s just amazing.”
Waller had everything going right on the mound, from solid fastball location to a breaking curve, snapping slider and a baffling changeup.
“I had perfect pitches, and there’s nothing more you can ask for in a game as important as this,” he said.
Waller’s efforts gave Moose Jaw a chance to stage their breakout inning, and they did so after nearly coming through in their two previous at bats.
Dawson Tweet got things started with a single to short right-center and Luke LaChance followed by reaching first on a swinging bunt, leading to Michael Speck coming up with the biggest hit of the game to that point. His single up the middle brought home Tweet from second with the go-ahead run and set the stage for more to come.
Campbell then doubled to bring home LaChance with the first insurance run, and Mensik cracked a line-drive double off the left field wall to bring home Speck and Campbell with the fourth and fifth Moose Jaw scores of the inning.
After that, it was Reece Helland time, and like the night before in Medicine Hat, he was lights out, allowing a meaningless base hit before striking out the final two batters and touching off a raucous celebration.
Mensik felt there was a good reason he and his teammates stepped up as much as they did not only in the game but as the series progressed.
“I was just thinking about our seniors and the coaches,” he said. “It’s the end of the year, and we’re doing it for them. It’s all about them... that's what I put my mind on, we had to do it for them, and it happened.”
Campbell -- who joins Helland as the lone returning players from the 2019 WCBL season -- is looking forward to facing Okotoks in the final. Moose Jaw won both meetings between the teams in Okotoks 10-7 and 8-3 back in mid-June.
“We played them earlier in the year, but both teams are going to look a lot different than they do now,” Campbell said.”Hopefully beating them twice in the middle of the year gives us confidence and hopefully we can punch them early, bring game two back here and see what happens.”
Game 2 is at Ross Wells Park on Wednesday night, with first pitch at 7 p.m.
“Oh, Moose Jaw is going to love it,” Mensik said emphatically. “Pack the park, pack the park for us, that’s all I gotta say.”