Believe it or not… 2009 was a really long time ago.
The L.A. Lakers won the Larry O’Brien trophy and Sidney Crosby lifted the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins as the youngest captain in NHL history.
Meanwhile, the Western Major Baseball League saw the Okotoks Dawgs complete a three-peat with their third league title in as many years.
In the decade since, the Dawgs have won five division titles with a finals appearance in 2011.
This season, history is looking to be rewritten for the Okotoks organization that runs on the ‘Hockey Canada’ standard of first or nothing.
For the fourth straight year, the Okotoks Dawgs will face off against the Edmonton Prospects in the first round of the playoffs.
Okotoks finished 6-2 this season against the Prospects.
On paper, the Dawgs seem to be the favourite from the West Division to represent the finals.
The Dawgs finished off their most winning season with a 40-15 record, albeit with an extended schedule that went along with another division banner.
Okotoks ran the table on offence. They finish first place in total runs with 409 on the year, hold the highest team batting average with a stellar .305 along with slugging average at a .449.
Chandler-Gilbert product Tristan Peters finishes the season as the batting average king with an outstanding .396 batting average to go along with a WCBL leading 90 base knocks and team-leading 12 dingers and 44 RBIs.
On the mound, the Dawgs are third in team ERA with 3.66, third in average against other batters and gave up the second least amount of home runs with 15.
Mesa Thunderbird ace Nolan Ruff finishes as one of three pitchers in the WCBL with an unblemished record with a perfect 7-0 record, posting a 3.14 ERA through 57.1 innings and fanning 65 in the process.
The Dawgs look to be the favourites coming out of the West Division and head coach Mitch Schmidt believes it comes down to continuing what his ball club have been doing all season long.
“It’s two completely different seasons. You take the positives in playoffs and build on them. We won 40 games but now, we’re on a race to win six,” he says.
“It’s been a grind with the schedule. We tell the guys they have to earn their off days…Win it in two, you get an off-day. Win the second in two, you get two of them.”
The talk about an apparent ‘rivalry’ won’t throw off the Dawgs’ mentality heading into their fourth meeting against the Prospects.
“Do you remember who won the World Series a few years ago? Or who they faced in the first round and how many games? That’s the thing, the past is the past and the future is the future…We’re not playing the same Edmonton team we did last year,” the second-year Dawgs coach says.
There are a few players who have been here and experienced those years. Academy alum Peters has been with the Dawgs since he was a kid. Texas State infielder Will Hollis was there last season with Ruff and others, but were there only once.
Other Dawgs Academy alumni, who make up a big chunk of the roster, hear about the past failures but none have actually experienced the so-called rivalry.
To the fans and the league? Sure, two teams face off one another once again. It’s treated as Alberta’s marquee matchup because it’s almost a Calgary v.s. Edmonton setting but the players and even coaching staff are different nearly every year.
The coaches there now haven’t experienced what the Prospects have these past four years according to Schmidt.
Pitching coach Joe Sergent, bench coach Dave Robb, (Dawgs coach who experienced the three-peat) and infield coach Andy Peterson, (head coach of Linn-Benton Community College, former Seattle Mariners draft pick) have been there and faced those hardships but it’s new year.
Second-year Dawgs bench boss Schmidt believes that adjustments don’t have to be made despite the long season, the familiarity between teams, or roster moves.
“Because of the diligence of our coaching staff, we’ll pick up on tendencies of players around the league. It’s a matter of the guys positively translating the information,” he says.
“We execute plain and simple.
The players have their own motivation.
“They understand it helps define the tradition and excellence of this organization. It is important and realize winning in Okotoks is important,” Schmidt says.
“I don’t have to motivate them. They want a ring.”