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Riggers heading to nationals as provincial champions

Riggers 6, Athletics 1

The Red Deer Riggers will be heading to the Baseball Canada Senior AAA Championships as reining provincial champions.

The Riggers wrapped up their second straight Alberta and Sunburst Baseball League title on Thursday in St. Albert, beating the Fort Saskatchewan Athletics 6-1 in Game 4 of the best-of-five series.

The Riggers have been untouchable all year with their first loss of the Sunburst season coming in Game 2 of the final to the A’s. The bounced back with a 10-1 win on Wednesday in Edmonton before putting it away on Thursday.

“It’s always tougher to repeat and go back-to-back,” said head coach Curtis Bailey. “We had a pretty strong team all year that stayed focused, and that made it a little easier to keep our eyes on our goals.”

Red Deer jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning, chasing Fort Saskatchewan starter Connor Whitely from the game after a couple of innings. James Fischer came in and shut down the Riggers until the seventh inning, but Red Deer starter Davin Gulbransen was just as good.

The wiley veteran went the distance for Red Deer, keeping the A’s off the scoreboard until the seventh inning.

It was a game he refused to leave.

“After the fifth inning he said, ‘My arm’s throbbing,’ and I asked him, ‘Do you want to go one more,’ and he said ‘sure, why not?’” said Bailey. “They went three-up-three-down and he came back in and gave me a thumbs up, so I knew he was probably going to finish it. He did real well.”

Gulbransen did pitch in the Riggers 10-9 loss on Monday, coming in for 2 1/3 innings of relief work. He took a comebacker off the thigh, but finished out the inning. The leg did not appear to bother him on Thursday as, but it was the kind of effort the Riggers have come to expect from the right-hander.

“He’s pitched a lot, he’s a smart pitcher, he’s going to outsmart most hitters, and that’s what he did,” said Bailey.

“He was pretty bruised up, but he could bend and he could move. He’s had a lot of success against Fort Saskatchewan, so he seemed like the right choice to go with.”

The Riggers qualified for nationals in St. John’s, Nfld., from Aug. 21-25, by winning the league and provincial title last year. Repeating this year means they will be going to next year’s national championship as well. But it also means they will be going as a dominant team this year, not just as a dominant team in 2013.

“It’s good to get that momentum of having that high of winning provincials to bring that into nationals,” said Bailey.

Three Riggers will not be able to make the trip to St. John’s as pitchers Reign Letkeman, Matt Davis and Wyle Cunningham are staying home. In their place will be pitcher James Fischer from the A’s and Craig Tomas from the St. Albert Tigers and outfielder Aaron Dunsmore from the Parkland White Sox.

• The Sunburst Baseball League announced their all-star team on Thursday as well, and five Riggers were named to the team. Jason Chattwood was the league’s top shortstop, while his brother Jaret Chatwood was named the all-star catcher, Jason Louis was tabbed at first base, while Mike Ronnie got the call in left field. Bailey was also named head coach for the team.

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