After months training indoors – and stateside in the warmer climes of Arizona – the White Rock Tritons were more than ready for the first pitch of the BC Premier Baseball League season.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t quite feel the same way.
The South Surrey-based under-18 squad was scheduled to open its season last Saturday with a doubleheader against the visiting Coquitlam Reds. Both games, however, were postponed due to rain, which meant a Wednesday night game in Vancouver – against the PBL’s newest team, the UBC Thunder – served as the team’s first official game of the year.
“You go a little stir-crazy just being in the indoor facility for four months,” said Mike Hughes, the longtime PBL assistant coach who has taken over head-coaching duties for White Rock this season.
Hughes has spent the last four years as an assistant with the Tritons, and prior to that spent the same length of time with the North Delta Blue Jays in the same capacity. He was bumped up to top spot with the U18s after a late-winter coaching shuffle – necessitated by a last-minute coaching vacancy opening up with the U16 Tritons – meant that former head coach Kyle Dhanani moved over to take the helm of the Junior Tritons.
“It’s nice, but it’s different. A little more responsibility, but I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Hughes said.
Hughes – the Tritons’ third head coach in as many seasons – will look to steer the Tritons in the playoffs for a second year in a row. Last year, they lost in the first round to the Langley Blaze. In recent seasons, the playoffs have proved somewhat elusive for the South Surrey crew – in one year, out the next – but Hughes is confident his team has the talent to qualify in 2018.
“I think we’ll battle for a playoff spot this year… I don’t see why we can’t compete with any team in the league,” he said.
“The end goal is definitely to get to the final four (semifinals), but it goes in steps, and the first step is making the playoffs, then you go from there.”
Hughes isn’t the only Triton returnee who will be thrust into a new role this season, either. Jackson Hogg – who played shortstop for the team last year – is moving to the outfield this season, and will be equally important to the team on offence, Hughes said.
“He’s played most of his career in the infield but he’s going to be our everyday centre-fielder,” Hughes said.
“Centre field was a position of need for us, and Jackson is an athletic kid – he’s got a good grasp of the position, so the transition was easy for him out there. He’s taken the challenge and is really enjoying it – it’s worked out well.”
Rookie Ryan Dawson, who played last year for the Junior Tritons, will take over at shortstop, the coach said.
A handful of other players from last year’s Junior Tritons are also likely to be key contributors to this year’s U18 group, Hughes said.
The team’s pitching staff – which features three veteran returnees in the starting rotation – will be buoyed by three newcomers: Ewan Hall, Noah Bryerton and Lukas Frers.
Last season, Hall led the BC Junior Premier Baseball League in wins, and Frers had the league’s lowest earned-run average.
“We definitely have some quality arms coming up. They’ll be counted on to log a lot of innings for us,” Hughes said.
They’ll be joining a core group of pitchers led by two Grade 12s who have already secured post-secondary playing futures – Keith Manby, who will play next season at Miles College in Montana, and Cam Dunn, who has already signed on with Yakima Valley Community College in Washington.
Assuming the weather co-operates moving forward, the Tritons – who are in Kamloops this weekend at the Best in the West tournament – are set to begin the season with a home-game-heavy schedule. From April 21 until May 12, the team will play 10 of 13 games at South Surrey Athletic Park.
The scheduling quirk means the team will need to find its form early, Hughes said.
“It’s huge to get off to a good start, because when you get into June and July and the schedule is real heavy, it’s tough to stay healthy and be in every game,” he said.
“So it’ll be important for us to win these games (now), so if we do hit that midseason lull, we’ll still be in OK shape.”
The Tritons’ first home games will be April 21 when the North Shore Twins come to town for two games. The following day, White Rock will host the Parksville Royals for a doubleheader.