By Tyler Lowey:
The pursuit of the Okotoks Dawgs fifth Western Major Baseball League title is less than two weeks from getting underway.
With hope springing eternal for every WMBL team this summer, the Dawgs will open the season against the team that ended their 2017 season in a hard-fought, five-game series last August.
“Edmonton has a good team with a bunch of guys from the Edmonton area, so they will be ready to go from the start. They are also a team that has been to the finals two years in a row now. If we want to get there, we know we are going to have to go through them at some point,” said Dawgs second year pitching coach Joe Sergent.
The Dawgs will take on the Edmonton Prospects twice in the first three games of the season, including the season opener June 1 at RE/MAX Field.
“We have built a little bit of a rivalry up over the past few years with Edmonton. A lot of our players come here after being eliminated in their college season, so taking on the Prospects is a great way to get energized for a new season,” said Sergent.
Sandwiched in between the two meetings against their playoff foe, will be the Dawgs 12th Okotoks home opener, Saturday, June 2 when the Dawgs welcome the Medicine Hat Mavericks to Seaman Stadium (7:05 p.m.).
The Mavericks finished two games behind the Dawgs last season in second place in Western Division with a 30-16 record.
Last year, the Dawgs got the better of the Mavericks, taking the season series 5-3. Always an entertaining game when these two divisional heavyweights met, the Dawgs outscored the Mavericks 78-72.
In the home opener last season, the Dawgs used a Greg Cullen double in the bottom of the ninth to score Peter Hutzel and Eddie Sanchez to walk-off the Mavericks 7-6.
The Dawgs will play a road-heavy schedule to start the season, as they play eight of their first 11 games away from the friendly confines of Seaman Stadium.
The Dawgs will head down to Lethbridge to take on the Bulls at Spitz Stadium June 8 and 9, in the second weekend of the season.
Last year, the Dawgs won the season series 6-2 over the Bulls, highlighted by a pair of 3-0 shutouts in Okotoks towards the end of June.
Breaking up the early road trips is a home game with the Brooks Bombers June 6.
The Bombers were the only Western team that the Dawgs swept, taking all six meetings in fairly convincing fashion. The series with the Bombers also included the Dawgs two biggest wins of the season: 22-2 and 12-0.
The Dawgs will crossover into Saskatchewan for the first time June 12 for a quick stop in Swift Current to take on the two-time defending champion 57’s.
The Eastern Division treated the Dawgs fairly well last season, as they leaned on a 9-3 record to capture their second-straight division title.
The Dawgs split the season series with the 57’s, Weyburn Beavers and Moose Jaw Miller Express last season. The Dawgs had a chance to sweep all the Saskatchewan series, but dropped the backend of the road trip all three times.
Last year, the Okotoks club made the trek to two of the furthest east teams, in Yorkton and Melville, but will have to load up the bus for their biggest road trip when they head to Weyburn July 16 and 17. The Dawgs split the series with the Beavers last year, winning 7-6 and losing 6-3 to the Beavers, who finished fourth in the East at 24-24.
The road trip to Weyburn comes in the middle of their longest stretch of consecutive games (10) and opens up their longest road trip of the season (five games) that later sees them stop in Moose Jaw and Swift Current on the way back home.
After sweeping the Red Sox 2-0 (6-3 and 10-5) last year, the host city for the Memorial Cup will be in Okotoks for the highly anticipated Canada Day game.
Canada Day is always a marquee event and should be circled on everyone’s calendar, as each year, Seaman Stadium shoehorns in a crowd in excess 5,000 fans. This year, the Canada Day is the only one of eight home games that doesn’t start at 2:05 p.m. Following pre-game ceremonies and the rendition of our national anthem, first pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m.
“Being Canadian and playing on Canada Day is the greatest thing — especially here in Okotoks. The crowds are insane, we usually play well and it’s a great way for the American players to see how much we celebrate our country,” said Sergent.
Canada Day might as well be renamed Automatic Win Day, seeing as the Dawgs are 8-0 on our nation’s birthday with a plus-39 run differential, dating back to 2010.
The Red Sox were last in Okotoks on Canada Day in 2013, when Tom Zarosinski tossed 7.2 brilliant innings of five-strikeout, six-hit baseball, in a 5-0 win for the Dawgs.
Following the Dawgs’ busiest 10-game stretch, they will wrap up the season with six-straight games — one each on the road against the Prospects, Bulls and Bombers, while hosting the Mavericks for a pair and will end the season against the Bulls.
“I think we have built a big enough roster to withstand those long trips. The biggest thing is that we just have to stay healthy. If we do that, we will be fine in the end,” said Sergent.
With 24 home dates during the regular season and hopefully a long playoff run, there will be plenty of baseball to catch this summer with great events taking place each game, as the Dawgs kickoff the drive for their fifth title in franchise history.