A successful first season at the 18-and-under triple-A level appropriately ended with a victory for the Penticton Tigers.
The Tigers, part of the South Okanagan Minor Baseball Association, beat the host Victoria Seawolves 7-4 after dropping their first two round-robin games at the provincial championships to the South Fraser Giants and first-place Cowichan Valley Mustangs on the weekend.
Head coach Aqil Samuel said the Tigers turned a lot of heads around the league, going 23-15 to finish fifth in the 14-team league, and earn one of the eight playoff spots.
“It was the most fun I’ve had in all my years of coaching,” said Samuel, who coached the nucleus of the team for eight years, starting in peewee. “We didn’t want the season to end. (But) it was great to be able to bring triple-A midget ball back to Penticton and the future for SOMBA and the team is very bright.”
The Tigers led twice before falling 6-3 to South Fraser in the opener on Thursday.
The second game against the vaunted Mustangs was a pitchers’ duel with Cowichan scoring on an infield hit in the bottom of the sixth to win 1-0.
“It was a bang-bang play at first,” said Samuel, noting the Tigers beat the Mustangs by the same 1-0 score at the recent Tier 1 provincials. “It’s a team that averaged 9.5 runs per game and we held them to one run. We played them tough all season.”
Starting pitcher AJ Reiter, one of five graduating seniors, had the Mustangs off balance the entire game.
“It was the last game of his (minor ball) career and he really put on a show,” said Samuel. “He always give us a chance to win.”
The loss eliminated the Tigers from semifinal contention, but playing for pride, Penticton beat Victoria. Seniors Tate Larsen and Aden Samuel pitching four and three innings, respectively. The two other seniors, Seth Kennedy and Cohyn Cutler, had big games offensively and defensively.
“Just a great team effort to finish up a fantastic season for the boys,” said Samuel.
Samuel noted there were seven Grade 10 players and one returning Grade 11 on the team who gained a ton of experience as they look to form the core of the 2020 Tigers.
“It was a big jump in a lot of ways, especially adjusting from aluminum to wooden bats,” said Samuel.
The team was made up entirely of local players with one each from Summerland and Cawston and the rest from Penticton.
There are some talented young players in the pipeline, with the SOMBA peewee team winning the association’s first provincial title this year.
“SOMBA is ready to really take-off,” said Samuel.
Samuel, however, will not be a part of it, though he plans to keep close tabs on the team in future years.
He is moving to Sylvan Lake, Alta. to serve as general manager of an expansion team in the Western Major Baseball League, made up of college/university age players.
“A long-time friend bought the team and hired me to be the GM,” said Samuel, who will oversee the building of a new 2,200-seat stadium in Sylvan Lake, which has a population of around 15,000. “It’s an exciting opportunity and we’ll be heading there at the end of this month.”
The Tigers will be in good hands though, Samuel stressed.
Josh Snider, a graduating player from Thompson Rivers University, will be taking over as head coach of the 18-and-under squad.
Snider is a 6’ 2” left-handed pitcher and first baseman who hails from Moses Lake, Wash.
“Josh came down to our winter camp in January and you could just tell he’ll be an incredible coach,” said Samuel. “It’s really a tremendous hire for SOMBA.”