Best of west coming to Lambrick as Mariners host midget-AAA Westerns

Best of west coming to Lambrick

Coach Rocky Vitale runs through the technical approach during practice with the Victoria Mariners AAA team at Lambrick Park. The M’s are hosting the Western Canadian midget championship beginning Thursday (Aug. 25).

Coach Rocky Vitale runs through the technical approach during practice with the Victoria Mariners AAA team at Lambrick Park. The M’s are hosting the Western Canadian midget championship beginning Thursday (Aug. 25).

Five of Canada’s best midget-AAA baseball teams are at Lambrick Park this week for the Western Canadian Championships.

The tournament is hosted by the returning champion Victoria Mariners who won last year’s provincial and Western Canadian titles.

As the Mariners prepare to enter the round robin schedule beginning Thursday (Aug. 25), coach Rocky Vitale emphasized the quality of midget-AAA baseball, which is the top level for 16- to 18-year-olds in the rest of the country.

“A lot of people don’t realize there’s no Premier Baseball League (as there is in B.C.) in the rest of Canada. The teams we are up against are the best from their province.”

But the Mariners didn’t have the kind of season Vitale would’ve liked. They finished fourth in the regular season, an OK finish that could have been better if not for a dozen games rained out during the brutal June and July weather. The games were never re-played.

In the playoffs the Mariners were edged from the B.C. final four after an 8-7 loss to Ridge Meadows.

“The lost games I’d like to have back, more for experience than anything. This group hasn’t been together for long,” Vitale said. “The group that won it last year played together for ten years.”

Five players from last year’s championship team returned this year while five others graduated to the premier Mariners.

Four of the returnees – catcher Gare Kopsar, outfielder Dylan Anderson and infielders Lucas Lapinski and Matt Bridge – were part of Team B.C. that went 1-4 at the Canadian Midget Championships in Regina, Aug. 18-22.

Also returning is Shawn Brand, who pitched the winning game over the Saskatoon Cubs in last year’s Western final.

“You need to get lucky in the Westerns and we can still do that but, we’ll need to find some pitching in a hurry.”

And the key to maximizing the team’s pitching strengths, added Vitale, is strategizing around the rules for pitchers. “You almost need a science degree to get through it.”

To win, the Mariners could play up to six games in four days. If a pitcher throws 30 pitches in a game he has to sit one day. It jumps to three days for 50 pitches and any pitcher who throws 100 or more in a game is done for the tourney.

“You hope you win the first three or four and get a mean-nothing game to get the pitchers some rest.”