The Red Deer Riggers flirted with an undefeated Sunburst Baseball League season almost right down to the wire.
But all good things must come to an end and the Riggers suffered their first league setback of the year Tuesday at Great Chief Park, falling 7-5 to the Fort Saskatchewan A’s.
“Our guys have played well all year,” said Riggers playing manager Curtis Bailey, whose squad will take a 16-1 record into tonight’s contest at St. Albert against the Tigers. “You could tell that maybe we were a bit tired and didn’t have the energy tonight. It showed on the field.”
The Riggers were coming off their successful weekend tournament in which they played four games in three days, but Bailey wasn’t using that as an excuse.
“No matter what, you still have to go out and have a good effort,” he said. “We maybe didn’t have a lot of good at-bats tonight. We popped up a lot and had some ground balls.”
The home squad started Jaret Chatwood on the mound and the Innisfail native — normally a utility position player — struggled early, giving up three runs in the first inning. For the most part, he was OK from there and — with a pitch count of 108 — was replaced by Drew Boyer in the seventh inning with the A’s up 6-4.
“You look at a guy like Jaret. He’ll throw one good game for us a year and that’s all we ask of him,” said Bailey. “He struggled a bit tonight, then did all right before we took him out.”
Tom Muhlethaler cracked a two-run homer and Matt Beaudry had an RBI single to stake the visitors to an early 3-0 lead. But the Riggers battled back with two runs of their own in the second frame on RBI singles from Denver Wik and Kevin Curran and a fly-out by Jason Chatwood that plated Reign Letkeman, who had drawn a walk from A’s starter Dylan Thereux.
Wik stroked a triple and scored on a wild pitch to give Red Deer a 4-3 lead in the fourth frame, but the A’s drew even in the fifth when former Red Deer Stag Dan Zinger flew out to centre field and scored Muhlethaler, who led off with a triple.
Muhlethaler, who finished the game a single short of hitting for the cycle, and Lance Romanchuk each drove in a run in the top of the seventh and Travis Ouelet hit an RBI single off Boyer that was charged to Chatwood.
The Riggers got one back in their half of the inning when Curran walked and came around on a double down the third-base line by Bailey, but A’s reliever Jeremy Harasymchuk held the home side scoreless over the final two innings while facing just six batters.
“You have to hand it to our guys — they’ve been real good about not rolling over this season,” said Bailey.
“We scored one run in the seventh and had a few base runners in the inning.”
The Riggers, who long ago wrapped up top spot in the league, will try and get in two rain-out games — July 31 at home against St. Albert and Aug. 1 versus Parkland at Spruce Grove — before swinging into the first round of playoffs, which will start Aug. 5 at Great Chief Park.
Curran had three hits and drew a walk for the Riggers, while Jason Louis also had three hits for the hosts.
Red Deer touched Thereux for 10 hits and managed just one off Harasymchuk. Chatwood gave up 10 hits and the A’s collected four off Boyer.