The Kamloops Player's Bench RiverDogs' quest for a second straight provincial midget AAA baseball title will begin against the only team to have had any sort of success against them.
The RiverDogs are to leave this morning for Chilliwack and the provincial championship, which will run through Sunday. The eight-team championship is divided into two pools, with each team playing one game a day before Sunday's semifinals and final.
Kamloops' pool features the Vancouver Mounties, Tri-City Indians and Cowichan Mustangs.
The RiverDogs won their season series with the Indians and Mounties, going 3-1 against both, but struggled in their lone weekend with the Mustangs. Playing two doubleheaders at a neutral site on the coast on June 9-10, Cowichan won three of four to hand the RiverDogs their only losing weekend of the regular season.
Kamloops ended up 26-9 and second overall in the B.C. Midget AAA Baseball League.
"I think we only had 10 or 11 guys that weekend," said RiverDogs head coach Sean Wandler, whose team is at full strength these days. "It was just one of those weekends that happen in a 50- or 60-game baseball season.
"But that's in the past; we've put it out of our heads."
The RiverDogs' past has been a good one, at least over the past 12 months.
Kamloops won the provincial title at NorBrock Stadium in 2011, a surprising result from a team with only one graduating player.
With that experience - plus another season of regular-season action - under their belts, this year's RiverDogs have a different mindset about them.
"I sense that the guys carry (2011) with them," Wandler said. "They've been through this, through the tough at-bats and the pressure situations . . .
"On the other side of that, being the defending champions isn't going to our heads."
Wandler, who left Wednesday for a coaches meeting, has his own head occupied by his pitching strategy, which may or may not change over the next few days.
One thing Wandler knows is that Mike Gilfillan will start today's game against Cowichan, and that Tyler Cousineau will likely get the ball against Vancouver on Friday.
"Game 3, we'll decide based on what happened the first two days," Wandler said. If Kamloops wins its first two games, it might not need to win the third for it to make the semifinals.
Players in midget baseball are on a pitch count - if a pitcher throws more than 50 pitches, he must rest two nights; if he hits 76 pitches, the mandatory rest period goes up to three nights.
Coaches have to be aware of this, especially if they want to have enough arms to get through three round-robin games, a semifinal and a final.
Wandler will do his best to sort it all out, as long as his players do their best on the field.
"It all comes down to these five games," Wandler said.
The provincial champion will qualify for the Western Canadian championships in Sherwood Park, Alta., from Aug. 23-26.
Kamloops will be home to the provincial bantam A baseball championship this weekend.
The 10-team tournament will start today on McArthur Island. Games will start at 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m., with the opening ceremony scheduled for 6 p.m. A skills competition will follow the ceremony.
Friday's games will begin at 8 and 11 a.m., 2 and 6:30 p.m., while Saturday's action starts at 9 a.m., with other games at noon and 3 p.m.
The semifinals are scheduled for Sunday, 10 a.m., with the championship final to start at 1:30 p.m.