he Everett Merchants are into the money round at the Kamloops International Baseball Tournament, but they're looking a little further down the road.
The Merchants (3-0) won two Friday games - 8-1 over the Red Deer Riggers and 8-2 over the Northwest Honkers - to finish first in Pool A and qualify for today's playoffs.
Everett will open the playoffs today, 2:30 p.m., against the Thurston County Senators at NorBrock Stadium.
The Merchants haven't won KIBT since 1992, and this year's team looks like a strong contender to snap that streak. And as much as KIBT means to the Merchants, the ultimate goal is the National Baseball Congress World Series, which runs July 28 to Aug. 11 in Wichita, Kansas.
"We're trying to get to the NBC World Series, so any money that goes toward that is good," said Merchants outfielder David Amberson, who hit a leadoff homer and drove in a pair against the Honkers, after hitting a sacrifice fly against Red Deer. "If we don't raise enough money, we won't be able to go. That's No. 1 for us."
Everett will have to get through the Seattle Studs in order to qualify for the 2012 NBC World Series.
The Merchants were nearly perfect - from pitcher Kevin Sheets all the way through the lineup - against Red Deer, but the game against Northwest was a little sloppier.
Perhaps because nothing was at stake - the Merchants had clinched first, while Northwest (0-3) had no chance of making the playoffs - the teams combined for five errors.
Everett starter Chris Kerwood was effective throughout, however, and went the distance. Everett manager Harold Pyatte was pleased with Kerwood's work, and will have a decent stable of arms heading into the playoffs, where the Merchants will have to win three games to take the title.
"Early on, it was kind of rough. None of my off-speed stuff was working," said Kerwood, who is getting ready for his sophomore year at Arkansas State University. "I had to rely on my fastball and I was wild, but luckily my defence did well behind me."
he Studs beat the Senators 6-1 in last night's late game, but both teams made the playoffs.
Seattle, which has won KIBT each of the last two years and five times in the last six, finished 3-0 to take first in Pool B, while Thurston County was 2-1 and second. The Kelowna Jays and San Diego Stars, who will play each other today at 11:45 a.m., both are 0-2 and out of the money.
The San Diego Stars lost 3-0 to Seattle on Friday morning, while Kelowna dropped a 6-3 decision to the Senators.
The Stars, meanwhile, already have qualified for the NBC World Series.
oday's game between the Kamloops Sundevils and Riggers will pretty much serve as a quarterfinal.
Both teams are 1-1 through two days at KIBT, meaning the winner will move into the money round. The game is scheduled for 9:30 a.m., with the winner to play the Seattle Studs in a playoff game at 5:15 p.m.
Red Deer opened with a 3-1 victory over the Northwest Honkers on Thursday, before dropping an 8-1 decision to the Merchants on Friday. Kamloops defeated Northwest 5-0 on Thursday, before losing 5-4 to Everett.
"We have plenty of arms to play past (today), as long as we get past Red Deer," said Kamloops head coach Ray Chadwick. "I don't think Red Deer can beat us."
But Red Deer player-coach Curtis Bailey wasn't so sure.
"We're going with one of our best pitchers, and we should do well," Bailey said. "If we can put things together, we'll be OK."
he Riggers are always in tough at KIBT, and Friday's 8-1 loss to Everett pretty much summed up how difficult it can be.
Red Deer didn't play poorly, managing six hits while allowing nine. But the strong Merchants did pretty much everything right, with pitcher Kevin Sheets keeping the Riggers off-balance and the offence producing runs every time it got the chance.
It's always an uphill battle for the Riggers, whose roster is full of men who work full-time jobs and play baseball for fun. The rosters of the Studs or Merchants, on the other hand, are full of college players who get a lot more action than Red Deer's players.
"Our average age is about 23-24, but our season is much shorter," Bailey said. "We have a very short season, and those guys travel around and play lots of games.
"They spend their time playing baseball, while we go to work, 9-to-5, then play a game."
Bailey, also a centre-fielder, has been with the Riggers for 19 years, and figures the team has only missed KIBT once during that span, never winning.
The Riggers only had 13 players in their victory over Northwest, but were helped by strong pitching from Brant Stickel, who threw a three-hitter.
"We always have about 20 guys commit for the tournament, and then the week before, guys start pulling out," Bailey said. "It seems to be the norm that we end up with 14-15 players. You look at Everett, they have a full bench, and we have three pitchers.
"We don't want to look like Little League baseball too much, but the next pitcher in is the shortstop and then probably our right-fielder."
he Sundevils also got a strong pitching effort on Thursday, with Wataru Asaoka throwing a complete-game two-hitter against the Honkers.
Asaoka, from Japan, was recruited to TRU and the Sundevils by Chadwick and former player Yoshi Nakamura.
"Yoshi . . . his job in Japan is to find places for Japanese players to play in North America," Chadwick said. "He sends kids to the U.S. and Canada."
Nakamura also helped Chadwick get in touch with Yoshihiro Odagi, another pitcher.