2019 Season Recap
Posted August 16, 2019
Congratulations to the Armena Royals who brought home the franchise’s seventh Powerline Baseball League Championship (five as the Royals, two as the Axemen) and third championship since 2015. The Royals, as the defending champs, would have to upset the Holden Blue Jays who won a record 14 games in the regular season to finish with an impressive 14-1-1 record and the PBL Pennant. The PBL Championship loss by the Blue Jays once again made the boys from Holden a finalist, bringing that total to five times since 2010. While the season began with promise of another exciting nine team schedule, the league did run into some speed bumps along the way.
Opening Day 2019 was given a black eye when the Camrose Axemen were unable to field a team to play the Holden Blue Jays in Vegreville. Then came the sudden departure of the Sherwood Park Athletics after just five games played by the team. The league would go through a whirlwind of emails to figure out what to do with the remaining schedule for the Athletics, ultimately deciding on keeping the five games already played and adding eleven forfeits to close out their season to give the A’s a 0-15-1 record. The league would see another forfeit as the young Camrose Axemen were unable to field a team for a Friday night game in Edmonton against the Expos followed by three late season forfeits by the Leduc Milleteers to close out their season agains the Rosalind Athletics, Camrose Roadrunners and Armena Royals.
The Leduc Milleteers
After coming within a few outs of the teams sixth PBL Championship in 2018, the team took a mighty big step backwards in 2019. Player availability for a number of reasons saw the Milleteers field a very different roster in 2019 then their successful 2018 campaign, often with only nine players able to make it out. Rock bottom happened on a road game to Rosalind when shortly before game time it was announced that the Milleteers would not be able to field the minimum of nine guys. The Athletics loaned the Milleteers a couple of players and the two teams played an exhibition game. After that the Milleteers would take forfeits losses to the Armena Royals and the Camrose Roadrunners, which could have had a massive impact on the playoff picture as a result. The forfeit win by the Roadrunners vaulted them into the final playoff spot, putting pressure on the Tofield Braves to get at least three points in their final two games. It is the second year in a row that a forfeit late in the season has impacted a playoff race. In 2018 the Sherwood Park Athletics forfeited their final game against the Holden Blue Jays. The Jays would go on to claim the fourth spot in the standings and get to host the Wild Card Game against the Edmonton Expos. Everyone is hoping to see the Milleteers return in 2019, however an unconfirmed rumour was circling around the baseball community suggesting that the Leduc Milleteers could be pursuing a move to the Alberta West Central Baseball Association, which is a 30+ league in the Edmonton area.
The Biggest Coin Flip In PBL History, Almost
Down to the last game of the PBL regualr season schedule and with a Wild Card berth on the line, the league narrowly escaped a coin flip of epic proportions, or as epic as it could be in the PBL. The Camrose Roadrunners and Tofield Braves were in need, it appeared, of a tie break ruling should they end up tied in the standings for the final Wild Card berth. The Roadrunners were sitting fifth in the standings after picking up a 7-0 forfeit win versus the Leduc Milleteers, leaping ahead of the Braves and forcing Tofield to pick up three points in their final two games to win the Wild Card berth outright. One win, or two points, meant both teams were tied in the standings. According to the whirlwind of emails that followed and the 2018 Spring Meeting Minutes, a coin flip was to be used to determine the final Wild Card team. Head to head matchup (which favoured Tofield) did not matter and a final head to head game, for the final berth, would not be used. Instead, a flip of a coin. Luckily the Tofield Braves were able to defeat both the Armena Royals and the Edmonton Expos to secure fifth and the final Wild Card berth to avoid what would have been quite the situation.
Fourteen Wins By The Blue Jays
The PBL has never had, at least in modern history, a fourteen game winner in the handful of fifteen or sixteen game seasons that were scheduled. The Jays would ride a league’s best pitching and defence to a .906 winning percentage and a PBL Pennant. Only two games prevented the Jays team from joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins in the history books. A 5-5 tie versus the Sherwood Park Athletics on May 14 in Vegreville, in a game that would become the Jays season opener after the forfeit win versus the Axemen a few days earlier on Opening Day, and a 7-4 loss to the eventual PBL Champion Armena Royals on May 30 in Armena. After that loss at the end of the first month of the season, the Jays would go on an impressive ten game winning streak to close out the season with the offence providing 123 runs in support of their stellar pitching and defence. Alas, regular season success doesn’t always mean there is PBL Championships waiting for a team.
A Bunch Of New Faces
In 2019 the PBL saw an influx of new players entering the league, fresh faces that would lower the league average age by quite a bit. In Camrose, the Axemen operated with essentially a junior aged roster, managed by another junior aged player in Zach Willms. Longtime Axemen Kris Johnson was the only remaining “old guy” on the team in 2019. The rest of the team was comprised of young Camrose ball players only a year or two removed from playing 18U baseball. Meanwhile in Rosalind, the Athletics added a handful of new players including rookie of the year candidate Griffin Lorenz, Connor Kushnerick, Blake Sitler, Carter McDonald and Brandon Zunti to their roster that already included youngsters Kobe Charchun and 2019 PBL All Star Chase Leslie. The future for these two teams looks bright as they both continue to add young, local ball players to the mix for years to come.
The Downfall Of Sherwood Park
When news broke in 2017 that Sherwood Park would be entering a team, fans were excited. A large centre with a large baseball association like the Sherwood Park Minor Baseball Association would surely deliver talented young players wanting to continue to play baseball, into the league. Even with teams in the Sunburst League (AAA), the North Central Alberta Baseball League (AA) and two teams in the Alberta West Central Baseball Association (30+), hopes were high for the PBL A’s. The franchise however struggled. In 2017 the A’s went 2-12 before reported infighting and the inability to come to terms on the direction of the team, split the team up in the off season. In 2018 the A’s would be credited with one win, a forfeit win against the Edmonton Expos, the team formed by former Sherwood Park players, after an illegal roster player was used in a win by the Expos. Finally in 2019, and after only five games, the Athletics called a time of death of the franchise. The team, which the SPMBA made clear had nothing to do with their association, finished their tenure in the PBL with a 3-40-1 record over three seasons.
The Defence Of The Title
The Armena Royals finished 2019 with an 11-4-1 record, impressive but only good enough for third place in the standings this year. A third place finish, which included going 2-3 to close out the season with both wins coming as forfeit wins, meant that the Royals would have to renew playoff hostilities against the Rosalind Athletics as the underdog. With Griffin Lorenz pitching extremely well for the Athletics, Rosalind quickly became the best of three series favourite. But hold on, the Royals are still the champs until someone takes their crown. The A’s would win game one, but would need an extra inning walk off home run by Chase Leslie to do it. In game two, David Ritz would pitch masterfully and the Royals would capitalize on some of the worst Athletics play of the season to win by 11-2. Game three would go to the Royals 5-4 as the champs bent, allowing the tying run to reach second base in the bottom of the seventh, but they would not break, claiming the series 2-1 against Rosalind. The PBL Championship was a re-match of the 2018 PBL Semi-Final Series between the Royals and the Holden Blue Jays. Game one was set for Vegreville but a late scheduling change due to the weather moved the game to the Holden Recreation Grounds. The Royals would need a pinch hit double in the top of the eight inning by Doug Morris, who arrived after work in the seventh inning, to secure the 2-0 win against the Blue Jays. Game two shifted to Armena where they would successfully defend their title with a rather anti-climatic, and error filled, 11-1 win in six innings. Royals CF Zenan Sherbaniuk provided almost all of the excitement when he would invoke the walk off mercy rule by hitting a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the sixth to secure the win and title. The Jays offence in the PBL Championship series was snuffed out and held to only one run in fourteen innings against Ian Sherbaniuk (eight innings in game one) and David Ritz (six innings in game two). The seventh PBL Championship for Armena moves the franchise into the top two or three teams in PBL history and in company with dominant teams such as the Ryley Rebels of the 1950’s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s.
Axemen Lefty Spins No Hitter*
The asterisk is there for those who don’t think it is a real no hitter because it was during a five inning mercy win. To everyone else, it was a terrific pitching performance by young John Robbins of the Camrose Axemen as he would carve through the Tofield Braves line-up with ease while his offence would put up a total of twelve runs in four innings. Robbins wound control the game with a ball rarely making it out of the infield off a Braves bat. After a tough sophomore season for the Axemen where they would finish 5-11 on the year, it was a massive bright spot on the young talent that the team has if they can figure out how to focus that energy and attention towards the game night in and night out.
So there you have it, the 2019 PBL Season in a nutshell. As always, there was fabulous play (and sometimes not so fabulous play) on the field which say back and forth games, big blowouts and pitching duels. 2019 has once again reaffirmed to the PBL Executive that if it is crazy enough to happen, it probably will happen in the PBL. There have been many calls for the league to now amend sections of the rules to include more clear guidance around forfeits and the standings when the playoffs are at steak. The league will more than likely take the first step to something more thorough in the Fall when teams are expected to met to confirm all of the new League Executive positions and talk about the previous season. A date, time and location has yet to be finalized.