The Okotoks Dawgs are entering the Western Major Baseball League playoffs with one of their greatest regular season teams in franchise history.
Now, the trick is going to be how to turn that stellar regular season success into playoff success.
Playoff success has something that has eluded the Dawgs in recent years and the club recently been stunted by the Edmonton Prospects.
This year could be different, though.
The Dawgs tied a franchise best for wins (35), and because of a non-made up game with the Medicine Hat Mavericks, they also set a franchise-best winning percentage of .745.
Plenty of great individual performances culminated in the great regular season success this year.
A pair of college teammates rewrote the record books, as Cody Ebert (Columbia College) set the franchise mark with 65 strikeouts and Craig Smith (Columbia College) became the new single-season leader with 15 saves.
Offensively, Collin Ridout (Tennessee Wesleyan University) finished five hits shy of breaking the record held by Jeff Harkensee, Eddie Sanchez (Central Arkansas University) broke his own walks record with 33 and Ryan Humeniuk (Indian Hills Community College) ran the bases like a mad man in the second half and came within one stolen base of tying Connor Crane’s club record of 23 back in 2014.
The Dawgs are even entering the playoffs riding a season-high 11-game winning streak.
Even with all those accolades, Dawgs Head Coach has gone to the school of Shania Twain when it comes to rolling over into postseason play:“That don’t impress me much.”
“Nothing what we did in the regular season matters. We are always about taking the next pitch mentality, go out and bust our (butts). We’re 0-0 and so are they. We need to go out and put pressure on them, make them make mistakes and capitalize on those opportunities. That’s what makes us a scrappy team and allows us to blow it open with those big innings,”said Schmidt.
The Prospects have limited their mistakes in the past two playoff runs, as they have been double-digit win underdogs and advanced to the second round both times.
“We need to show up and not take anything for granted. We can’t sit back on teams and let them get ahead. We need to have the bulldog mentality to jump on teams early and often,” said Dawgs infielder J.T. Patterson (Bellevue University), who was a part of the Dawgs team in 2016. “We have a great solid core on this team and nobody is going anywhere. In the past, we have had guys leave to go home early for school and that made it tough. Nobody is leaving and we are all here with one goal in mind.”
This year, the Dawgs took the season series in fairly convincing fashion, 7-1. The Dawgs also outscored the Prospects 69-34 for a plus-35 run differential.
In the eight game series, Humeniuk was one of the top offensive producers for the Dawgs, as he went 11-for-21 with 10 runs scored, seven RBIs, a pair of doubles and one home run off the scoreboard.
Sanchez also had a good series, as he went 10-for-28 with three walks, six runs scored, eight RBIs and two doubles.
Ridout earned the most hits, as he went 15-for-37 with eight runs scored, five RBI, two doubles and one triple.
On the mound, Mason Swegarden and Ebert tied each other with two wins against the Prospects. Swegarden went 2-0 in 12 innings pitched, struck out nine and allowed four earned runs. Ebert was just as dominant, as he went 13 innings, struck out 12 and only allowed two earned runs.
At the friendly confines of Seaman Stadium this year, the Dawgs went 18-5. Their play didn’t drop off much away from Okotoks either, as they finished the year 17-7 on the road.
The Prospects on the other hand, went 16-6 at home and played to a 7-17 record away from RE/MAX Field.
The Dawgs enter the series with 12 more wins than the Prospects, one more win that each of their playoff meetings the past two years.
With the cliché of playoffs being a completely different animal true on most occasions, the simple message for the Dawgs if they want to get past the Prospects this year is to not deviate from the type of baseball they have been playing for the past three weeks.
“We just need to continue what we have been doing and have fun out there. That’s the type of team we are and we need to make sure we are doing all those things again come playoff time,” said Schmidt.
The best-of-five first round series starts tomorrow night at Seaman Stadium (7:05 p.m.). Game 1 and 2 will be in Okotoks. Game 3 goes Aug. 2 in Edmonton. If necessary, Game 4 would be at RE/MAX Field, with the possibility of Game 5 returning to Okotoks Aug. 4. First pitch for all games goes at 7:05 p.m.