Two teams with hallowed histories and second- and maybe even third-generation roots square off in a series that resembles the odd couple as two hot and heavy Highway 14 foes lock horns for the 2014 PBL final. Both are playing for fallen teammates. Both have lost in the PBL final during the Leduc Milleteers run. Both have become more and more determined to claim the league title and overcome the mental hurdles that have held them back in the past.
Here’s how they got here:
The Rebels re-entered the league in 2009, and doing a roller-coaster ride from contender to non-playoff team twice. Reaching the finals in 2010 after a 10-5 record, they were swept aside by the Milleteers, giving up 22 runs in the final two games. In 2011, they came back with avengance, fighting through the regular season to stage a one-game playoff over their hated arch rivals in Bardo. But the season ended with yet another playoff loss to Leduc, and later that summer they lost a leader on the team, and one of the founding members in Curt Stensrud.
With heavy hearts, the last two seasons have been up and down as the team began to show more and more signs of maturity and focus on baseball. With the additions of Scott Kaughan and the Provost boys, the team has retooled with the original core, and gotten hot at the right time, including an unseating of the dynasty that no one else, including the former version of themselves, could slay. They have the best offence in the league, and now legitimate arms to counter with.
Holden Blue Jays
The Blue Jays re-entered the league in 2010, and have always shown signs they could be a part of the next dynasty with a formidable pitching staff. They too, have gone up and down with occasional missed playoff years, but already, in their short five-year existence, are heading to the final for the third time – the previous two ending in Leduc Milleteer losses. With the giant slayed by the Rebels, the Jays face a different opponent that also seems to have their number from time to time. Ryley won the 2010 semi-final series in three games.
Last year seemed to be a year of destiny for the Blue Jays. With veteran PBLer Pat Kawaliak, a leader and founder of the new team, passing away in the winter, the Jays played to “win it for Pat.” After knocking off Bardo the Milleteers upended them in two close games. Despite a lack of offence, they seem to have more potential to score with Zak Lang and Braedon Majeski at the top of the order. If they can stay focused on baseball and the task at hand, they may be the only team able to counter Ryley’s formidable power at the plate, with their stingy defence.
Season Series: Tied 1-1
Pitching: Holden. Not by much given the acquisitions this season by Ryley, but if Skori and Soprovich can overcome fatigue, and keep them ahead, Muzcheska is available for saves. Though all three looked beatable in semi-final series, they combined to give up a modern-day PBL record low of 41 runs, tying the 2009 Leduc Milleteers. Though Leduc played an extra game…
Hitting: Ryley. It’s a fact, the Rebels put up the most runs on the league with 116. They have true 1-to-9 power down the lineup and can hit the long ball at any time with half their lineup.
Defence: Tied. Both have been good. Both have improved with acquisitions. Ryley the most with the addition of Chad Nelson at third base, moving Craig Koughan to a more comfortable spot at one bag. The outfield of the Blue Jays will be tested, and showed remarkable grabs in key situations to win the semi-final. But with short porches, the long-ball could come into play – thus negating the defence anyway.
Who wins: Flip a coin. I’m gonna stay on the fence here. With the Jays taken to the brink, playing a one-game playoff and fending off a pesky Armena Royals squad, while the Rebels have been resting arms and occasionally playing ball with other teams, the Rebels seem to be the favourites. But Holden is determined, and with Logan Skori, Grayson Soprovich and Kyle Muzcheska available, it will depend on them to shut down the red-hot Rebels and get offence from Lang to win this series.
Let’s get it on
Both teams are so opposite and yet so much the same it makes for a good story line. Both in their short five- and six-year existences have had problems during games, losing their cool. Both are playing for fallen teammates. Both are from towns storied in PBL lore. The 1987 and 1988 PBL finals were split – one each for Ryley and Holden.
This year’s the rubber match, more than 25 years later. Play ball!