One week ago the Orioles were just over half way through their season with a playoff spot still in question, but six days later the team has played four double-headers and nailed down a berth to the district playoffs in Spokane after reeling off five wins in six games to go to 9-3 on the season.
“Our older guys really did step up,” said coach Kyle Mace following Monday’s doubleheader. “They really took the team under their wing, and made things happen. They’d been there before so they knew what it took and they pushed us. In the dugout our older guys were on our younger guys making sure they were doing things the right way, hustling, and that’s what leadership is about.”
After splitting with Asotin last Wednesday, Trail took two from Mt. Spokane on Saturday in a pivotal series, and needed two wins Monday night against Rogers to guarantee at least a third-place finish in the tight National League division.
With their top guns on the mound, the AA Orioles soared to a pair of 11-5 and 7-1 victories over the Pirates.
“Asotin and Mt. Spokane were huge,” said Mace. “We showed up and laid an egg in the first game against Asotin, but we had a really good comeback (7-6) win, and then in Mt. Spokane we just showed up and were ready to go, and we let them have it pretty good.”
The O’s swept Mt. Spokane with 5-1 and 7-4 victories before returning home to clinch a playoff spot, as the top three teams in their division advance to districts.
“Winning those types of games sets you up for playing better competition, sets you up for the playoffs and hopefully the state championships. That’s our goal.”
In the opening match of Monday’s doubleheader, the AA Orioles trailed Rogers 4-2 in the top of the fourth inning, but Trail would reply with three runs in the bottom half to take a 5-4 lead.
The Pirates would tie it in the fifth, but Trail rallied in the sixth. Austin Tambellini and Tyler Atkinson both singled to lead off the inning, and Nathan Soukeroff and Derek Green followed with back-to-back doubles to spark a six-run outburst on their way to the 11-5 victory.
Tambellini got the win on the mound for the O’s while Gagnier went 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored. Soukeroff was 2-for-3 with a double.
For Soukeroff, who was part of the 2013 West Kootenay Diamondback team that went to districts and fell one game short of making it to the State finals, a return to the playoffs is satisfying.
“It’s unreal, it’s great, couldn’t feel better,” said Soukeroff. “We knew we had a good team, but we just play our hearts out and we’ll see what we can do.”
The Castlegar native is also poised to attend the Prairie Baseball Academy (PBA) in Lethbridge, a stepping stone to NCAA universities. Local players like Chris Kissock (Lewis-Clark State), Kyle Paulson (Bryan College) and Joey Underwood (Bryan College) attended PBA and all went on to play college ball in the U.S., and Soukeroff says he hopes for a similar result.
In the nightcap, the score would remain 0-0 until the fourth when Orioles pitcher Brendan Makay helped out his own cause by belting a double to right-centre to lead off the inning. Austin Tambellini would score Makay after a sharply hit ball to centre was misplayed by the fielder. A walk to Soukeroff, would bring up Bradley Ross whose single to right scored Tambellini on what proved to be the winning run. Casey Harrison would walk to load the bases and Reese Tambellini would deliver a single to score both Soukeroff and Ross to give the O’s a 4-0 lead.
Trail would score three more runs in the fifth to take a 7-0 lead before the Pirates counted their only run in the bottom half of the inning.
Makay went five strong innings, giving up one run on four hits, and striking out four. Reese Tambellini went 2-for-3 at the plate, while Makay was 2-for-4 with a double.
“The boys really worked today, it’s great for them,” said Mace. “None of them have been to playoffs except (Austin) Tambellini, Soukeroff, and Atkinson, so it will be a great experience for them.”
The AA Orioles also played their final two games of the season against West Valley on Tuesday night in Spokane but scores were unavailable at press time. The Orioles will begin the district playoffs on Thursday in Spokane.