The Victoria HarbourCats earned a “messy win” over the visiting Bend Elks on Sunday, 3-2 at Royal Athletic Park.
It gave the HarbourCats 10 wins in 14 games as the baseball team entered a five-day break in the West Coast League schedule this week. The next game isn’t until Saturday when the HarbourCats visit the Cowlitz Black Bears (6-6) in Washington.
“Five days off, what a luxury. We’d rather be playing but we’ll take it,” coach Dennis Rogers said.
The HarbourCats took two of three against the Elks (12-6), the first place team in the WCL’s southern division.
The HarbourCats earned only one of three runs on Sunday. Jordan Ellis scored on a passed ball in the fourth inning. Justin Burba singled in the sixth inning scoring Chris Lewis and advancing David Schuknecht to third base. Shuknecht scored the winning run on a wild pitch during the next at bat.
Left hander Bryan Conant earned the win, pitching four scoreless innings of relief.
“It was a bit of a messy win,” said right fielder Austin Russell, who went hitless in two at-bats. The former Esquimalt Little League player piled up the hits earlier in the month, but has gone without a hit since June 17 in Kelowna.
“With our hot start and adding on more players and more talent, we’re going to get real good here. Every day we mesh more and winning helps,” Russell said. “Right now (Bend is) just another team, it’s early still, but good to come out with the series win.”
Batters from both sides made solid contact with the ball on Sunday, but the heavy humidity and light drizzle of rain kept the ball in the park.
“It was noticeable the ball wasn’t going anywhere. On a sunny day the ball flies pretty well here, but it always depends on the weather,” Russell said.
This week’s unofficial break, which is the longest of the two-month season, is a time for the players to work on fundamentals and for coaches Rogers and Bob Miller to get a chance to look at the team, which will add its final players later this week.
But Rogers was quick to temper expectations as the team is barely one quarter of the way through the 54 game schedule, though it has played one third of its home games.
“At the end of the (Sunday’s) game I told the team it was a good weekend, we won the series and be proud of that, but reminded them to stay on task with a lot of things,” Rogers said.
“They’re in the definition stages of their careers, in total control of their thoughts and effort level. Fifteen games into it we have a little bit of tempo going with our club. We’re probably two or three players away from being fully enhanced so it’s very exciting.”
The players enjoyed a day off on Monday and will spend Friday traveling to Cowlitz.
This week’s break is also a time for co-owner and president John McLean to reflect on the first few weeks.
“Patience is the biggest thing I’ve learned so far,” he said. “And having a contingency plan.”
Each game day, a staff of about 20, not including volunteers, meet at noon at the HarbourCats’ Vancouver Street office. Most game days go until 10:45 p.m., when the field is raked.
“On opening day in preparation for our first night, we practiced our new ticketing system all day and afternoon. We invested in it, and it worked fine, then we opened the gates and the scanners weren’t working. So you always have to be prepared,” McLean said.
The HarbourCats have enjoyed a strong gate, announcing 1,246 in paid attendance on Sunday. The HarbourCats are third in the league with an average of 1,424 per game, behind the Medford Rogues, 1,429, and Bend Elks, 1,566.
It’s hard to gauge how much of an effect winning is having on the fan draw, but it’s clear the connection to the players is a tangible one, as Nick Pivetta pitched two wins for the HarbourCats before signing a pro contract and joined the Washington Nationals minor league system two weeks ago.
“People always love a winner, there’s no question,” McLean said. “We made a conscious effort to recruit first year and second year players who can come back next year. We want the core of this team to go back to their college teams after the summer and talk about how wonderful the team experience, the coaching and the fans were in Victoria.”