HYDE CREEK—It wasn’t the championship tournament the North Vancouver Island Baseball League hoped to host, but a weekend doubleheader July 19-20 did manage to provide both postseason atmosphere and tight competition at the local ballfield.
With the defending champion Port Hardy Cubs withdrawing from the league due to low participation this spring, the NVIBL was reduced to a series of mostly imbalanced games between the Port McNeill Rangers and the Hyde Creek Hillbillys, who swept the entire season series by occasionally lopsided scores.
But with several visiting players from the Comox Valley traveling to take part, the Hyde Creek Hillbillys managed a sweep of the final games of the season against a bolstered “Rangers” club as sunny skies and a barbecue helped swell the crowd of family, friends and other spectators.
“It couldn’t have worked out better,” said Ryan Rushton, who hit his second career home run and added a ground-rule double in the Hillbillys’ wild, 16-14 win Sunday. “With the Courtenay guys coming up, it really brought up the calibre of play and made the games exciting.”
Orginally, the plan was to bring up an entire team from Comox, which participates each year in the Sointula Invitational Tournament May Long Weekend. Only three players were able to make the visit to Hyde Creek, but they teamed with existing and recently recruited Rangers — and a couple of borrowed Hillbillys — to create a solid squad that made for two days of solid, nine-inning competition on the diamond.
The Hillbillys took a 12-6 win Saturday behind two home runs from Ivan Hall.
Sunday’s slugfest actually began as a tight pitcher’s duel, with the Rangers taking an early 2-0 lead and holding a 4-3 edge through six innings before the offences took over.
In the top of the seventh, the Hillbillys plated three runs to jump ahead 6-4, but the Rangers erupted for seven runs in the bottom half to take a commanding 11-6 advantage.
But that outburst was merely a precursor for what was to come, as the Hillbillys answered with nine runs in the eighth — and left the bases loaded — en route to a 15-11 lead. But the Rangers weren’t finished, getting a run back in the bottom half on an RBI single by Keadan Egeland of Courtenay and, after the Hillbillys added a run in the ninth on Glenn Moore’s solo home run, scoring three more in the bottom of the ninth before Hyde Creek hurler Jason West coaxed Egeland into a game-ending fielder’s choice with the tying run on base.
The Hillbillys will return the favour in two weeks, traveling to Comox to appear in a weekend tournament.
As far as the long-term future of the team, and the NVIBL, Rushton was optimistic that Port Hardy would return and that Port McNeill would bounce back with a competitive team to restore the league next season.
And, the Hillbillys would like to invite a full Comox-area team to its postseason tournament.
“I think a playoffs with us, Port Hardy, Port McNeill and bringing in these guys would make it a really fun tournament,” he said.