Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart – It has been a season of hard knocks thus far for the Junior Premier Victoria Eagles, who after dropping weekend double-headers at home to the North Delta Blue Jays and Coquitlam Reds, have a record of 4-25 and are well ensconced in last place in the 12 team BC Junior Premier Baseball League.
It is not all bad news for the Eagles however, as but for an unlucky bounce or two, or a key hit here and there, the Eagles could have easily won three of the four games over the weekend, except perhaps for Game 1 against the Reds on Sunday in which they trailed 7-0 early, en route to an eventual 13-1 shellacking.
In the other three games, lady luck was just not on their side.
In Game 1 Saturday against the Blue Jays, the Eagles received a stellar pitching performance from Karsten Waters who would go the distance, giving up just one earned run on seven scattered hits, while striking out seven and walking none.
Sadly, a pair of Eagles errors proved costly, with one error producing two unearned runs in the second inning and the Eagles offence was virtually non-existent, managing just three hits off North Delta starter Nathan Unrau, who would go six full innings to get the 3-0 win.
The Eagles had their chances to score, most notably in the bottom of the fourth when they would load the bases with two outs, but could not capitalize any further. In the bottom of the seventh, the Eagles looked as if they would start a winning rally with a leadoff single from Evan Smith, but a great (and mildly controversial) diving catch by North Delta left fielder Gota Kinoshita took that away, and the Eagles would not respond, going out in order to end the game.
In Game 2 Saturday, the Junior Eagles would hold a 3-2 lead after three innings, but would falter down the stretch, allowing the Jays a pair of runs in the fifth and one in the seventh to trail 5-3 heading into their last at bats.
The gritty baby Eagles would battle back to score two in the bottom of the inning to send the game into extra innings, but two North Delta runs in the top of the eighth would make the score 7-5 and put the game away for the Jays, as the Eagles would go out quietly in the bottom of the frame thanks to an inning ending double play by the Jays.
For the Eagles offensively in that game, Jeevan Sall had a strong game, going 3 for 4 with a pair of RBIs, while they received another adequate starting pitching performance, this time from Martin Eckard who went 5 and 2/3 innings, giving up three earned runs on nine hits, while striking out three.
Following Sunday morning's whitewash against the Reds, the Eagles handed the ball to starter Brendan Turcotte for Game 2 and he would be stellar, allowing just a single hit through the first four innings to take a 2-0 lead into the fifth.
The Eagles, who had scored runs in each of the first and fourth innings, would surrender a pair of runs to the Reds in the top of the fifth inning to make it 2-2 and that's the way the game would stay until the tenth.
Turcotte, still on the mound for the Eagles through the ninth inning, continued his solid work and took to the mound to begin the tenth. In hindsight, perhaps this was not the right move, as after a leadoff out, the Reds got to him for a run with a single and an RBI double.
Reliever Lyndon Simmons would then take over and struggle, giving up an RBI single (run charged to Turcotte) and then, following an error by the Eagle's second baseman, a walk and three straight singles and suddenly the Reds had put five on the board to lead 7-2.
While the Eagles would answer back with one in the bottom of the tenth it would not be enough and the Reds would come away with the 7-3 win.
The four weekend games at Lambrick were a microcosm of the Junior Eagles season to date. The team is playing competitive baseball, but just can't find the breaks they need to put together a streak of wins.
The 13-1 loss on Sunday morning was just the fourth time they were really blown out of a game this season and twelve of their losses have been by four runs or less, which many would call close games in the world of Junior Premier baseball.
The season of hard knocks is par for the course for the Junior Eagles, who finished the 2012 season with a 10-34 record, good for last place in the league, but at this level of baseball, it is not all about wins and losses, but more about developing players who want to move up to the Premier team during the season or in the season that follows.
As an example, five players from that 2012 squad, Kyle Murai, Jason Heckl, Eric Hegadoren, Tony Ebbs-Canavan, and Zane Takhar are playing for the 2013 Premier Eagles, while one, Sam Caouette, has moved to the Midget AAA Selects.
Already this season, two players who began the year with the Junior Premier Eagles, Ethan Skuja and Tyrus Jocko, have moved up and are earning significant playing time with the Senior squad.
Others, like the Junior Eagle's Noah Dalziel, are playing well, enjoying their time with the Junior squad and waiting patiently for their time to move to the next ranks.
There are many who may argue that the Eagles poor record, and perhaps to some degree, that of the 13-15 Victoria Junior Mariners, is a by-product of the fact that there are five elite, midget-aged teams in Victoria – Junior and Premier Eagles and Mariners and the Midget AAA Selects – all competing for a limited pool of players.
While this may be the case, especially when compared to the more expansive talent pool that lower mainland teams can draw from, the plus side of it all is that there are more kids playing a game they love, at the highest level possible, than there would have been otherwise.
For amateur baseball fans everywhere, especially in Victoria, and those players benefitting from the additional playing time they are getting, this is truly a good thing.