Riggers 3 A’s 1
He didn’t know it at the time, but Red Deer Riggers left-hander James Dykstra made Dwayne Lalor’s final game as a player a most memorable one.
Lalor announced following the Riggers 3-1 victory over the Fort Saskatchewan A’s in the provincial senior men’s AAA baseball championship final at Great Chief Park Sunday afternoon that it was his final game.
It brought to an end an outstanding 29-year career that saw him win 14 provincial and one Canadian championship.
“Wow it’s been so much fun,” he said with emotion evident in his voice. “It was special to get a chance to play with Jason (Chatwood), Jaret (Chatwood) and Kerry (Boon), my cousins. I enjoyed this one a lot.”
While Lalor drew the biggest hand during the medal presentations, Dykstra wasn’t far behind.
He turned in one of the best pitching performances seen during the Riggers 29-year history.
Despite pitching Friday in a 4-1 win over the St. Albert Tigers, and working the final 2 1/3 innings in the Riggers 7-5 victory over the Red Deer Stags in the semifinal, Dykstra went the distance against the A’s allowing only five hits, while fanning five. And in the end it was appropriate that he struck out the final two batters he faced. The last — Justin Miller — with a high fastball.
“That was possibly the hardest I’ve ever thrown,” he said, adding he felt good despite the long day.
“My arm felt bad in the semifinal. I was struggling and just went mainly with the curve. But whatever happened between games it loosened up. I was running on adrenaline the last three innings. Right now I feel I could go a couple more.”
Riggers manager Curtis Bailey didn’t plan on using Dykstra more than three innings.
“But I saw in the second inning he was locked in and was alright. I knew he was hanging a little, but I didn’t talk to him the rest of the way. I figured he’d go as long as he could and that was unbelievable.”
The Riggers got to A’s starter John Stempfle for an unearned run in the second and a pair of runs in the third on four straight hits. The A’s lone run came in the fifth on two, two-out hits.
But Dykstra didn’t let it bother him as he retired seven of the next eight men he faced, allowing only a two-out single in the sixth.
“This is my first provincial championship and it’s a tremendous feeling,” he said. “This is a great group of young players, who worked all season just for this. It was a team decision at the beginning of the year to get here . . . this is what we wanted.”
The Riggers youth and outstanding depth paid dividends. Not only did they run into a string of injuries down the stretch — Mike Ronnie (wrist) Bailey (ankle), Jordan Weinkauf (hand) and Grant Kveder (thumb) — they also needed to play eight games in less than a week, including seven in four days, which stretched their pitching staff to the limit.
“We had guys playing out of position, but all the young guys accepted what we asked of them and they all contributed,” said Dykstra, who joins Brent Lazzarotto as the veterans on the pitching staff. “They’re tremendous character people. The big thing for us is that we worked together as a team, not individuals. We won as a team and lost as a team.”
“We have a great group of young baseball players, who battled like crazy,” added Lalor.
It’s the fact the Riggers have so much young talent that was the final reason Lalor decided to call it a career at age 46.
“These guys are too good for me to be in the middle of that lineup,” he said. “And this is the 14th time we did this and what a way to leave.”
But he will be with the team next year as the GM and at the national finals.
“I’ll be there, just not in uniform, but a golf shirt,” he said with a smile.
Boon had a solid game in the final with three hits while Matt Fay, who was playing with a bad shoulder, had a single and a walk.
The Riggers had their hands full with the Stags in the semifinal despite jumping into a 5-0 lead after three innings against Sheldon MacDonald, a pickup from Spruce Grove.
The Stags battled back with a run in the bottom of the third against starter Denver Wik and added two runs in the fourth and two in the fifth off Wik and Dykstra. However, Dykstra settled down retiring the side in the sixth and getting three of the four men he faced in the seventh.
Meanwhile, Aaron Graves played the role of hero at the plate, smashing a double off the right-field wall in the top of the sixth to plate Boon and Jason Chatwood with what proved to be the winning runs.
Jason Chatwood had a pair of hits and was hit twice in the game while Delton Kruk, Boon and Graves had two hits each. Shaun Connor and Dan Zinger had two hits each for the Stags.
“A disappointing loss, but I’m not upset,” said Zinger. “I was proud of the guys for battling back to tie the game, and we had our chances, but it didn’t work out. Graves hit was the game.”
• Fort Saskatchewan beat the Calgary Redbirds 5-4 in the other semifinal.