The Ryley Rebels have not been back to the PBL Championship series since 2010 when they defeated the Holden Blue Jays in the semi-final 2-1. Twice, in 2009 and in 2011, the Rebels playoff run was ended before it began by the Leduc Milleteers in 2 game sweeps in the semi-finals and last year were swept out of the playoffs by the surprising Armena Royals.
One of the most obvious issues has been the availability of those players whose names are down on paper. Work and family obligations have taken their toll on the Rebels roster since they rejoined the PBL in 2009 after a lengthy absence due to player availability and leadership.
C Bryn Redhead was picked up by the Edmonton Prospects of the WMBL for 2013
While the village of Ryley, like most small centres, has not seen minor baseball in over 15 years, the team continues to comprise of players from the area who did grow up in the Ryley or Tofield minor ball systems. But the lack of any organized baseball in the area has foced the Rebels, like the Bardo Athletics, Camrose Roadrunners and Armena Royals, to look into the Camrose minor ball system for players to fill out a roster and add some youth to the team. In 2012, Blake Helgeland and Jared Sand were signed to contribute on the field. In 2013, the Rebels may need some more.
CF/RF Tyson Schielke fights off a high pitch from Jays P Logan Skori
The peak of the frustration that comes with a lack of available bodies was game two of the 2011 PBL Semi-Final Series versus the Leduc Milleteers. After wearing down the Milleteers in a game one that saw the Milleteers win 2-1, fans expected to see an amped up Rebels team take it to the Milleteers at home in Ryley for game two. Unfortunately only 8 Rebels were able to show up, and the Rebels needed to seek some additional time to gather number seven and eight to at least start the game.
In 2012 the Rebels would once again struggle throughout the season with players, especially for the long eastern road trips to Holden. Holden and Ryley even played a rare 8-on-8 game due to player availability on both sides. LF/CF Kris Kushnerick and CF/RF Tyson Schielke patrolled the vast green space while SS Corey Epp would occasionally slide back into the left field grass as a rover. The Rebels have without a doubt set a PBL record for most wins by an eight-man team, with 5 since 2009.
Rebels defeated the Jays 2-1 in 2010 to earn their last trip to the PBL Finals
Many a Rebels’ fan has asked what does the team need to do to challenge for a PBL Championship in 2013? The answer might be as simple (or as difficult) as consistency and commitment.
Last season the Ryley Rebels played a total of 21 baseball games. Only three Rebels made it out to more than 15 games during the season and heading into the playoffs (19 games into the Rebels season) only 4 players made it out to a double-digit number of games while 12 players were only able to make it out to 8 games or less throughout the season. In a game built around timing both in the field and at the plate, the Rebels were unable to build any momentum. A 2-0 sweep at the hands of the peaking Armena Royals, looking back, was not that surprising.
By no means is this problem unique to the Ryley Rebels but it has been a problem that the Rebels have not been able to resolve.
A routine fly ball turns into a diving catch for LF/CF Kris Kushnerick with the 8 man defence alignment
History shows that success in the PBL seems to follow those who have, at the very least, a 1-2 punch of pitching. The great Ryley Rebels teams of the 1990’s had both Ray Lehman and Don Oslund in the their primes, the Camrose Roadrunners had Steve and Paul Ofrim, the Camrose Colts had Jeff MacDonald and Rene Brisson and the Armena Axemen had Scott Peterson and Joel Boettger. The success of the Leduc Milleteers could be greatly attributed to the consistent pitching and a rotation that is deeper than anyone in the PBL could field with the likes of Steve Pahl, Jon Anstey, Ryan Walker and the Doyle brothers.
Right-handed pitcher Craig Koughan is the Rebels ace. He pitched 49.67 innings in 2012 recording an impressive 1.69 ERA, walking 11 and striking out 35. Koughan was named to the PBL All-Star squad for the second season in a row. But after Koughan, the Rebels depth chart has not been as impressive as it needs to be for the team to see some success.
P Craig Koughan was an All-Star in 2012
Both Corey Epp and Kris Kushnerick have not been able to establish themselves as big game pitchers over the last couple of seasons. Epp has struggled with control issues and surrendered 58 hits in only 38 innings in 2012 while Kushnerick is nothing more than a thrower who has begun to slow down with arm issues and can no longer be successful with a batting practice fastball. Until one, or ideally both, gets it figured out the Rebels will be relying on longtime veteran Don Oslund or the emerging Blake Helgeland as a potential number two pitcher.
Oslund’s record was 1-3 last season but wins/losses for pitchers is tough to put a lot of weight to when the offence struggles to score runs and the defense begins to kick a ball or two around. Helgeland showed a spark of something that could be built upon when he pitched a complete game shut out of the Holden Blue Jays last season.
Corey Epp would score one of the Rebels 98 runs in 2012
Should the Rebels not be able to develop or find a legitimate number two pitcher to add to the roster in 2013, the answer to success is going to have to be in the offence.
When the Rebels are hot with the bats, they are untouchable. But like most things hot, they eventually need to cool down and this is where the Rebels have struggled to bounce back from, 9 times the Rebels would score 3 or less runs. The team would score 10 or more runs a total of four times in 2012 including two games scoring 20 or more runs, once against the Camrose Roadrunners (23-8) and once against the Bardo Athletics (20-5). While relying on an offence is difficult, pundits will argue that good pitching will always prevail over good hitting, the Rebels do have help on the way for 2013.
Kevin Reinholt picks up a double vs the Royals in Game 2 of the Semi Final
Returning to the line up for the Rebels will be 2B/DH Kyle Reinholt. Reinholt holds the career batting average record for the Rebels with a .399 average since 2009 including two seasons of above .400 hitting. Reinholt will hopefully bring consistent hitting to the middle of the order like he did from 2009-2011.
Also joining the Rebels will be Brad Kern. Kern could be used in an utility role for the Rebels in 2013 as the speedster will instantly become one of, if not the fastest player in the PBL when he steps on the field. A great arm and great wheels on the Rebels will probably see him moved into the outfield since the team is already overloaded with corner infielders.
Blake Helgeland is one of the new Ryley Rebels from the Camrose Minor Ball system
In a depth move, Travis Jones will be suiting up for the Rebels in 2013 for his fourth season in blue after stepping away from the team in 2012. Jones has been a corner outfield in his previous stint with the Rebels and there is no reason to think that this would change for 2013.
A total of 8 Rebels batted over .300 in 2012 pushing the team average to .318 with a .408 on base percentage. But scoring runs was an issue for the team. With only 98 runs scored, the Rebels scored the fewest of all the playoff teams, although they only played 14 games as a team, which was one less, then the other three teams headed to the playoffs.
2B Brian Tavaroli takes a pitch against Joel Boettger in Game 1 on the Semi-Final
If the Rebels hope to make it back to the PBL Championship and challenge the reigning Leduc Milleteers, they will need the offence to get hot at the right time and will have to out slug opponents to see success. A tough task when everything tightens up and batters will see better pitching.
Someone needs to challenge the Milleteers, it might as well be the Rebels.