Any thoughts that the Riggers were running out of gas heading down the homestretch during the Sunburst Baseball League season were put to rest in Game 1 of the playoffs.
Wily veteran pitcher Davin Gulbransen threw 6 1/3 innings and first baseman Jason Louis launched a monster two-run home run in the fifth inning to lead the Riggers past the St. Albert Tigers 12-4 at Great Chief Park on Tuesday night in Game 1 of their best-of-three series.
“Everyone was a little bit anxious heading into the playoffs, but we’ve had good success against this team, so I think going into the playoffs we’ve been confident in our pitching and our batting, so we were ready for them,” said head coach Curtis Bailey.
Louis’ 400-foot-plus bomb to left-centre field in the fifth inning, broke open a tight 3-0 game, to put Red Deer up 5-0. They added two more runs before the inning was out to go up 7-0 and never looked back.
“It felt really good,” said Louis. “It was a full count and I was sitting fastball and I picked up the breaking ball and didn’t miss.”
Bailey was impressed with the power shown by his first baseman, but wishes he put it on display more often.
“I tell you, that guy has so much power, if he had any kind of lift on his balls he’d hit 15-20 home runs a year easily,” said Bailey. “Man he hits the ball hard.”
Holding the Tigers down was Gulbransen. The right-hander kept St. Albert off the scoreboard until the sixth inning when second baseman John McHugh launched a solo shot to right field. He ended his night with six strikeouts and four earned runs against on seven hits and two walks. He just ran out of steam late.
Rein Letkemen came in and got the final two outs for Red Deer.
“It’s funny, (Gulbransen) always finds ways to get outs,” said Bailey. “He started to get tired in the sixth inning, but you knew he’d given it his best shot.”
Though the Tigers crept back into the game in the seventh inning with three runs, Red Deer came back with four in the bottom half to mercy St. Albert — game is over if one team leads by eight runs or more after seven innings.
All game, however, the Riggers showed an ability to take advantage of their opportunities and cash in runners in scoring position, starting in the second inning when Kevin Curran singled to right with runners on first and second, and with the help of an error scored the opening run. Denver Wik then cashed in Bailey from third base with a sacrifice fly.
Louis brought home another run in the third inning, with the bases full he hit a dribbler down the first base line.
Riggers catcher Jaret Chatwood had a single, a double and two runs batted in, Kerry Boone had three singles and an RBI. Bailey had a single, a triple and three runs and Curran had two singles and two RBI.
St. Albert starting pitcher Craig Thomas lasted five innings and gave up eight runs, six earned, on 10 hits, one walk and struck out six.
Game 2 goes tonight in St. Albert at 7:30 p.m. If Red Deer wins they will punch their ticket to the league final with Game 1 on Sunday. If they lose, Game 3 will be back at Great Chief Park on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“We want to keep the momentum going and not give anyone a chance,” said Louis. “We want to win it out and go get the title.”