If you're going to win a provincial midget AAA baseball championship at home, you might as well do it in the most mind-blowing fashion possible.
The Kamloops Player's Bench RiverDogs won their second provincial title in five years on Sunday, beating the Vancouver Mounties 11-10 in what may well go down as one of the most exciting games ever played at NorBrock Stadium.
Kamloops, which last won the provincial title in 2007, is scheduled to attend the Western Canadian championship in Victoria at the end of the month.
That the RiverDogs won the title at home is an amazing feat, but it likely will forever be remembered more for how they did it.
Kamloops and Vancouver waged a brilliant war in the championship game, with the teams combining to score 18 runs over the last 2½ innings. The lead changed hands four times during a one-hour span in the game's final three innings.
By the time it was over, the RiverDogs barely knew whether to celebrate or exhale.
"The way that game went back and forth and the kids never quit, you never had the opportunity to really let it sink in," said RiverDogs head coach Sean Wandler, of his second provincial title in 12 seasons with the team. "The way the game went, the tide could change at any time."
Kamloops, playing as the visitors based on its standing in the round-robin, led 3-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth. Vancouver scored five to go ahead, but Kamloops replied with four in the top of the sixth for a 7-5 lead.
Again the Mounties scored five and, needing three runs to tie and having only three outs to do it, Kamloops bounced back with another four-spot in the top of the seventh for an 11-10 lead.
Rookie right-hander Jordan Kealty, Kamloops' fourth pitcher of the game, managed to stop the barrage and lock down the save.
"I've never been a part of a ballgame like this in all my 12 years, and I've got grey hair for a reason - that's it," Wandler said. "It was an amazing game, to see it go like this in a provincial final."
Kamloops' Leyton Edye drew a walk to start the seventh-inning rally, with Kealty following suit and Colton Thompson loading the bases with a single. Edye scored on a wild pitch, before Kealty ran home on a Vancouver error to make it 10-9.
James Arko hammered a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Thompson, before Colin Rintoul scored the go-ahead run on another wild pitch.
"It was one of those games - honestly, you didn't know what was going to happen, and they came out ahead," said Vancouver head coach Bill Robinson. "We had a couple of mental errors, and that killed us."
It marked the end of a 4-1 week for the RiverDogs, who ended the round-robin with a meaningless 7-4 loss to the Mounties on Saturday. Kamloops beat the No. 1 seed, the Ridge Meadows Royals, 3-1 in a Sunday semifinal, while the Mounties pounded the Richmond Chuckers 10-0 in the other.
"Everything went exactly as we planned, really," said Arko, who had two RBI and a double in the final. "When we would be down a couple of runs or if someone made a mistake, we would just pick each other up. Every game we played, we knew we had a shot at it."
Spencer Lord started for the RiverDogs, going five innings. Dylan Luison faced a batter in the sixth, before Jake Harris pitched the rest of the inning.
Luison had two triples, three RBI and a run, with Blayne Halland driving in a run and scoring two others, and Colin Rintoul and Kealty each crossing the plate twice.
If Wandler had expected a particular team to win a provincial title, it certainly wasn't this year's, not with 12 of 13 players eligible to return next season.
It's a departure from the 2007 provincial-championship squad, which won with a veteran-laden roster featuring seven graduating players.
Not only that, but the 2007 squad had high expectations, and finished second in the regular season. This year's team was a bit of a surprise, going 27-15 in the regular season and then rolling through provincials.
"I always said I wanted to be part of a Cinderella season before I retire," said Wandler who, at 34, has a year or two to go before he might want to consider that.
"I can finally put that feather in my cap because I saw it today. Amazing."
Mackenzie Kada-Wong went 1 2/3 innings for Vancouver and was tagged with the loss. Starter Ganasan Poniani and Brendan Lim each pitched 2 2/3 innings.
Robby Letteri, Simon Ehrmantraut and Shane Devlin each had three RBI in the loss, and Letteri, Ehrmantraut and Kada-Wong each scored twice.
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Mike Gilfillan pitched the RiverDogs into the final, throwing his second complete game of the weekend in the semifinal victory over the Royals.
Connor Kozak and Kyle Pouncy each drove in runs in the victory.
Thompson took the loss to Vancouver on Saturday, going six innings and allowing four earned runs. Halland had two singles and two RBI.