In front of a standing room only crowd at Anniversary Park in Armena, the hometown Royals defeated the Leduc Milleteers 8-5 to be crowned Powerline Baseball League Champions. It was a thrilling game three victory for the Royals who bring the fourth PBL title to Armena as the white and blue (1984, 2002 and 2015) and sixth overall counting the 2003 and 2004 PBL titles by the Armena Axemen.
The pitching matchup for the third and final game of the Championship Series was Kirk Smith of the Leduc Milleteers and Doug Morris for the Royals. Smith was the game one starter and winner for the Milleteers while Morris picked up a relief win in game two for Armena. Game one went to the Milleteers 8-5 at Anniversary Park with game two a couple days later that ended up 6-4 in favour of the Royals to set up this game three.
Armena would start the scoring in the home half of the first inning. Pitcher Doug Morris would reach on a single up the middle followed by a walk to 2018 Harry Andreassen All Star Game MVP Luke Ryan. Catcher Sheldon Petryshyn would load the bases with a single that fell into no mans land between second, centre field and right field for the Milleteers. With the bases loaded Royals second basemen Liam Gregor would rip a double down the line to score Morris easily. It should have been two runs on the play but Ryan would miss third base and try to retreat back to tag up but get caught in the run down. With runners at second and third with two outs, first baseman Clark Banack would take Smith deep to left centre and over the head of Milleteers centre fielder Brendan Huber for a two RBI double and an early 3-0 lead.
Right handed pitcher and 2018 PBL All Star Doug Morris would attack the Milleteers and fill up the strike zone right from the first pitch. For the first four innings the only offence Leduc could muster were three singles. A two out single by catcher Alex McIntosh in the first inning, a one out single to left fielder Brad Engel in the third inning and a two out single off a fastball by Jon Anstey. The Milleteers were having no luck as Engel’s single could easily have been a double but the hard hit line drive would ricochet off the third base umpire for a single only. Morris would retire thirteen of the first sixteen hitters he would face giving his offence all the breathing room they would need to get after Smith.
In the home half of the second inning the Royals would extend their lead to 4-0 with some small ball. Short stop Devan Varga would hit a one out infield single ahead of lead off hitter Zenan Sherbaniuk’s sacrifice bunt to move the speedy Varga into scoring position. Morris would help his own cause with a RBI single to right field scoring Varga from second base for their fourth run of the night.
It was the bottom of the fourth inning that the Royals would put the game away and end Smith’s night. A lead off single by right fielder Dan Matushyk would be the Royals seventh hit off of Smith. The Milleteers right hander would get Varga swinging and Leduc third baseman Del Kruk would make a great falling play at third to rob Zenan Sherbaniuk of a sure bass hit. From the ground Kruk would get Matushyk at second but the Milleteers would have no chance at the speedy Sherbaniuk. It would prove costly for the Milleteers as the Royals would hit four two out singles and steal four bases to extend their lead to 7-0. Sherbaniuk would calmly steal second setting up a RBI single from Morris. Left fielder Luke Ryan would hit an infield single to the left side putting runners at first and second. Armena would pull off a double steal with Morris drawing a throw from Milleteers catcher Alex McIntosh to third. The throw would sail into left field allowing Morris to slide in at home for what would eventually turn into the game winning sixth run for the Royals. Petryshyn would hit a RBI single to score Ryan and Liam Gregor would hit another two out single and steal a base to put two more runners in scoring position. Smith would get Banack swinging to finally end the inning in what would be his final hitter he would face.
With the game 7-0 the Milleteers offence would finally get to Morris in the top of the fifth inning to make things interesting. Morris would get centre fielder Brendan Huber to ground out to second base for out number one. First baseman Steve Pahl would hit a Texas leaguer into left field before being lifted on the base paths in favour of Adam Pahl. Pahl would steal second and Brad Engel would earn a walk to put two runners on as the Royals bullpen started to stir. Short stop Mykel Ruptash would hit a hot shot at first baseman Clark Banack that would evade the veteran first baseman allowing the first Leduc run to cross the plate. Morris would get Milleteers second baseman Jon Anstey to ground out into a RBI for out number two as Ruptash would make it to third on the play. Then the Milleteers hit back to back to back doubles to make it a 7-5 game. Catcher Alex McIntosh would hit a ground rule double to the right centre fence to score Ruptash, first baseman Del Kruk would yank a ball down the right field line for a RBI double to score McIntosh and Kirk Smith would hit a deep fly ball off the fence in right centre to score Kruk. Three big time hits had the Milleteers back into the game.
With some life left in them, the Milleteers would turn to their bullpen with Chad Soucy first to get the call. The right hander wouldn’t allow a hit but would hit two Royals hitters with Daniel Matushyk wearing a curveball in the arm and Zenan Sherbaniuk being grazed by an inside pitch. Despite a couple of wild pitches and a Royals stolen base, Soucy would work out of the jam and get his offence back to it.
It appeared to be a frustrating night for the Milleteers pitchers who would battle the strike zone at times. In the bottom of the sixth inning the Milleteers would send Jon Anstey to pitch and try to hold the Royals for a chance to rally in the top of the seventh. Anstey would start the inning with back to back walks to Luke Ryan and Sheldon Petryshyn. A pair of passed balls would lead to an insurance run for the Royals as Ryan would score the eighth and final run of the night on a play that saw an Anstey fastball tip off McIntosh’s glove and back to the screen. Visibly upset, Anstey would hump up a fastball that rode in on first baseman Clark Banack, hitting him in the elbow. Anstey would however settle down and blow away third baseman David Ritz and pinch hitter Lyndon Galvin for back to back strikeouts to end the inning.
Unfortunately for the Milleteers the Royals would send Doug Morris back out to the mound to start the inning and it turned into two innings of shut down ball from the right hander. Morris would retire six of the final seven Leduc hitters to earn his second game three victory of these playoffs, this time for the PBL Championship.
The Championship win for the Royals is their second in the last four seasons and this Championship Series was their third over the same time span. The 2018 edition of the Armena Royals were a vastly improved team from the 2017 Armena Royals which saw them finish 3-11 and in sixth place. This season the Royals would lead the PBL Standings from the beginning of the season right to the end. The only blemishes were losses to the expansion Camrose Axemen and Edmonton Expos and a loss to the Holden Blue Jays which ended their unbeaten streak at eight games, the third longest unbeaten streak to start a season in league history.
Congratulations to the Armena Royals! 2019 Opening Day in the PBL is only ten months away.