Playing in the familiar surroundings of Edith Gay Park, the host Sun Devils couldn’t ask for a much better scenario for the 2017 provincial tournament.
Still, with just four days and a handful of games remaining in the season—and six other teams aiming for the same coveted prize—head coach Rob Law said his club will be taking nothing for granted.
“We had a great regular season, but provincials are a completely different story,” said Law, whose club went 30-8 to finish in top spot. “You play four round robin games against four different teams, so every inning of every game is crucial.
“Every team in the league has beaten us at one time or another this year, so there’s no letting your guard down. For our guys, each game will be about playing seven innings with everything they’ve got.”
The Sun Devils open provincials on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. against Victoria. Round robin games will follow against Vernon and North Shore on Friday, then North Fraser on Saturday.
Like any game or tournament, Law expects his favoured Sun Devils will face some adversity this week at provincials. But based on both team chemistry and character—win or lose—the head coach knows his players will leave it all on the field.
“It’s just an amazing group of kids,” said Law. “I haven’t seen a team that’s gelled like this one. They’ve got each other’s back and when somebody makes a mistake, there’s someone there to pick him up. It’s a tight knit group.
“Every kid has taken turns stepping up this year,” he added. “They’re confident but not cocky going into this. Most of all, we want them to have fun, enjoy this and just play hard.”
The Sun Devils round robin schedule is:
Thursday, July 27 vs Victoria Eagles—2:30 p.m.
Friday, July 28 vs Vernon Canadians—9 a.m.
Friday, July 28 vs North Shore Padres—3 p.m.
Saturday, July 29 vs North Fraser Nats—3 p.m.
The B.C. championship final is set for Sunday, 3 p.m. at Edith Gay.
Nelmes no-hits Victoria
In a season that produced more than a few highlights, Dreyton Nelmes and his Sun Devils teammates waited until the last game of the regular campaign to provide perhaps the most memorable moment of all.
The 16-year-old pitcher threw a complete game, no-hitter on Sunday afternoon, as Kelowna blanked the Victoria Eagles 9-0 in the finale of a four-game series.
Nelmes wasn’t actually aware he had a no-no going until the fifth inning when he heard a Victoria opponent bring it up.
Once his teammates found out—in keeping with traditional baseball superstition—they made no mention of the no-hitter and instructed Nelmes to go sit silently by himself at the end of the dugout.
With the sixth and seventh innings to go, Nelmes simply followed the fundamentals of pitching like any other game.
“I was thinking two more innings to go and as long as we win, that’s all that matters,” said Nelmes, a Grade 11 student at Immaculata. “(The no-hitter) was in the back of my mind but it was really just doing what I needed to do to help win the game.
“It’s a team game, I had to rely on my teammates and there’s no way we could have celebrated this together without them,” added Nelmes, who struck out seven batters. “It’s starting to sink in what I did, it’s nice, but I’m more happy for the team.”
The Sun Devils’ defense was airtight behind Nelmes, making several big plays including Spencer Klassen’s leaping grab at second base to take a sure hit away from the Eagles’ batter.
“He actually looked like he climbed on air, amazing,” Sun Devils coach Rob Law said of Klassen’s catch.
As for Nelmes’ performance, Law said it has a special place in the Sun Devils’ three-year history.
“It was truly amazing what he did,” added Law. “Our coaching staff leaned in and whispered to each other after the fifth inning and said… ‘You see what is going on here?’ The three of us just nodded.
“It was great to watch, I have goosebumps talking about it.”
Nelmes’ effort was preceded by another stellar outing on the mound by a Sun Devils’ pitcher. Jordan Laidlaw tossed a complete game one-hitter in a series opening 10-0 victory on Saturday.
“Everything was working for him, he had full command of his pitches, it was pretty to watch,” Law said of Laidlaw’s win.
The clubs split the other two games of the series, with the Sun Devils winning 6-5 and the Eagles bouncing back with a 2-1 win Sunday morning.
Sun Devils grads
This Sunday night, when the dust settles from the provincial championship, five Sun Devils will officially bid farewell to the program.
Jay Taylor, Noah Foufoulas, Kurtis Wall and Gavin Barrett will all play baseball next season at their chosen university or college, while Noah Ringness-Law will take a year off from school.
Taylor, who went 4-1 this season with a 3.78 ERA, will attend College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California, and will take Auto Mechanics and the core courses to get into physiotherapy.
Foufoulas is going to Thompson Rivers University in the CCBC and will take architectural engineering.
Kurtis Wall, who batted .375 this season, will also go to TRU and will enroll in Bachelor of Business Administration to pursue a degree in Finance.
Barrett, who went 7-1 with a 1.97 ERA in 2017, will stay at home to play in the CCBC with Okanagan College, while taking Associate of Arts leading into a Bachelor of Arts.
Ringness-Law, who led the Sun Devils with an eye-popping .459 average, 37 stolen bases and 31 RBIs, and had no fewer than half a dozen schools interested in his services, is weighing his options of where he’ll play next season.
Wall, Barrett and Ringness-Law have all been with the program since its inception in 2015.
“They’re going to be missed,” head coach Rob Law said of all five players. “To see how far all of them have come since joining the program has been great to watch. These (provincials) will be their last games in that uniform. I know I’m likely going to be teary-eyed when it’s all over.”