Cut short

But Prospects re­flect on an­other strong Western Ma­jor League Base­ball sea­son

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - Ja­son HILLS hill­sy­ @hill­sy­jay

Ex­pec­ta­tions have been raised for the Ed­mon­ton Prospects.

The team set out lofty goals to get back to their third straight Western Ma­jor Base­ball League cham­pi­onship se­ries and win their first WMBL ti­tle, but de­spite fall­ing short on both goals, it was a pretty spe­cial sea­son.

The Prospects again played the un­der­dog role in the 2018 play­offs nicely, but their sea­son ended Fri­day night with a 11-4 loss, on the road, to the Medicine Hat Mav­er­icks.

It marked the third straight year the two di­vi­sion ri­vals met for the WMBL di­vi­sion cham­pi­onship with the Prospects win­nings the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons.

“This team had a very good year and we’re re­ally proud,” said Prospects man­ager Ray Brown. “This is our fifth year, and this is our best team. If this team would’ve been any other year, this team wins our league. This league has re­ally up­graded over five years.”

For the past five years un­der the guid­ance of Brown and bench coach Orv Franchuk, the Prospects have built a win­ning at­ti­tude and cul­ture.

Off the field, this was the Prospects most suc­cess­ful sea­son in fran­chise his­tory with 50,323 fans in at­ten­dance, av­er­ag­ing 2,053 per game.

This sea­son brought along ad­ver­sity. They lost vet­eran out­field­ers Derek Shed­den and Jake Lan­fer­man to sea­son-end­ing in­juries in the first two weeks of the year. They had to rely on the re­main­ing vet­eran core of Tony Ol­son, Anthony Cusati, Michael Ga­han, Zane Takhar, Nick Spill­man Bren­dan Wuin to lead the team.

All six play­ers used up their col­le­giate el­i­gi­bil­ity and won’t be back for 2019, but have cer­tainly played a big part in build­ing the cul­ture and lead­er­ship over their time with the Prospects.

“Those guys are go­ing to be hard to re­place. They’ve been the meat of our team, and they’ve helped lead our young guys,” said Brown. “Those guys were the driv­ing force and they showed the young guys what it takes to com­pete here. Orv and I can only do so much, and it’s up to the lead­ers and they made sure this team never quit.

“They al­ways made our team be­lieve that we al­ways have a chance to win.”

For Takhar, com­ing up short of a cham­pi­onship in his fi­nal year with the team hurts, but he knows the team threw ev­ery­thing they had at Medicine Hat, who fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son with a 38-9 record and had the most ex­pe­ri­enced ros­ter in the WMBL.

“We were a bunch of grinders out there. That’s what it took to get us that far. Medicine Hat was just more con­sis­tent in the se­ries and it was tough to beat that, but we had an awe­some year de­spite not mak­ing it as far as we wanted,” said Takhar. “It’s the most fun I’ve had play­ing base­ball be­ing part of this team the last two years. We’ve had some in­cred­i­ble runs in the play­offs, and I’m so grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity. I’ve made life­long friends with a lot of the guys. It’s meant ev­ery­thing to me to be part of this team.

The Prospects also had some new faces emerge as key parts of the team’s fu­ture — none more than ace pitcher Rich Walker.

De­spite tak­ing the Game 5 loss to the Mav­er­icks, it was an in­cred­i­ble year for Walker. He pitched the first per­fect game in WMBL his­tory. He led the WMBL with three com­plete games.

Daylen Cal­ic­dan was one of the league’s top hit­ters, and out­fielder A.J. Nitzschke emerged as a big play­off per­former.

Edgar Bar­clay and Josh Sieglitz be­came de­pend­able arms in the Prospects rotation.

All could play ma­jor roles in 2019.

“Ev­ery year you need younger guys to step up and play a big part to have suc­cess, and they all did that for us,” said Brown. “We see Nitzschke as a leader for us next year. He’s got the stub­born­ness and the grit that it takes to be a leader. Jake Mac­don­ald has the same makeup.”

Next year, the Prospects will look a lot dif­fer­ent with play­ers mov­ing on, but the ex­pec­ta­tions will once again be high.

“Of the 23 guys on our ros­ter, we’ve iden­ti­fied eight that we’d like to see back. There are a cou­ple that are bub­ble guys and if they can have good years at school, we’d like them back,” said Brown. “We need to find some bet­ter Cana­di­ans and Amer­i­cans, so we can com­pete with the teams that win 30-35 games.

“We need to be bet­ter than .500. We want to be one of the teams that’s ca­pable of win­ning 30-35 games. If we do the proper re­cruit­ing and we use our play­ers as a net­work, we’ll do well. Our play­ers know what kind of cul­ture we want to cre­ate. If we can fill the gaps where they need to be filled, we have a chance to be real good.”

Shaughn BUTTS/ Post­media

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