A slow start turned into a strong finish and the Red Deer Riggers opened their 2015 Sunburst Baseball League season Tuesday with a 6-5 win over the Parkland White Sox at Great Chief Park.
The visitors got a solo home run from Andrew Slinko in the first inning and scored three times in the third frame for a 4-0 lead, but the Riggers answered back with two runs in the fifth, one in each of the sixth and seventh and two more in the eighth inning.
“We were pretty rusty, we’re not in game shape,” said Riggers playing manager Curtis Bailey. “We’ve only had five practices and it showed.
“We were a little anxious, a little excited. We pushed things a bit but once we started to calm down and started to relax a bit, guys were feeling more comfortable.”
The Riggers were undefeated in Sunburst regular season and playoff action last season — and as a result will represent Alberta in the nationals in New Brunswick in August — and with 16 returning players and just two newcomers in Joel Mazurkewich and Greg Labranche, will be favoured to capture the league and provincial titles for a second consecutive year.
“We’ve set some goals — to win the league and provincials,” said Bailey. “We’ll keep building towards that and however that looks in the win and loss column . . . it really comes down to the end. If we’re playing together and getting along well then we’ll be successful.”
After the Riggers battled back to even the score at 4-4 in the seventh inning, Scott Hoekstra restored Parkland’s lead with a solo homer in the top of the eighth.
But the hosts answered with a two-run round-tripper from Jason Louis in the bottom of the frame and Jaret Chatwood, pitching his second inning, held the visitors off the board in the top of the ninth to nail down the victory.
Louis also stroked a pair of singles and scored a run, while Kerry Boon cracked a two-run double, Chatwood and Kevin Curran each doubled and scored and Mark Fay and Shayne Court each knocked in a run.
Jarvis Grenier worked all eight innings on the White Sox mound, allowing 11 hits on 141 pitches.
The Riggers, meanwhile, used five pitchers. Josh Edwards, who struck out the side, threw one inning, and starter Davin Gulbransen, Wylie Cunningham, Joel Peterman and Chatwood each worked a pair.
Bailey said the pitching carousel was by design. He also liked what he saw from his staff.
“Josh Edwards was injured most of last season. He came back tonight and looked strong,” said Bailey. “And Davin had gall bladder surgery a few months ago, so it was good to get him back in right away.
“It was a good start to the season.”
The Riggers return to action next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against the visiting