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Gritty Dawgs dig deep to repeat as WCBL champions

Baseball: Okotoks overpowers Medicine Hat in rollercoaster 13-5 clincher

A six-run answer ensured the Dawgs ran it back for their seventh championship.

The Okotoks Dawgs bounced back from a five-run top of the sixth with six runs of their own in the bottom of the inning to take command of the Western Canadian Baseball League winner take all Game 3 and see out a 13-5 victory over the Medicine Hat Mavericks to clinch the 2023 title in front of a playoff record 5,888 fans at Seaman Stadium on Thursday night.

“Hat’s off to Medicine Hat, we knew they were scrappy, we knew they were going to punch us in the face and we just had to make sure to get the last punch,” said Dawgs interim manager Lou Pote. “There’s no panic and that’s the best thing about these guys, they just love playing the game. When you get a team that’s talented and doesn’t care who gets the credit and doesn’t panic, nights like this happen.”

Okotoks took a 2-0 lead in the second inning with Eric Hartman driving in a run on a fielder’s choice and Aidan Rose scoring on a wild pitch.

The Dawgs doubled the lead in the third on a sharp liner to left off the bat of Trent Lenihan and via a fielder’s choice from catcher Caleb Lumbard.

In the fifth, cleanup hitter Alejandro Cazorla increased the advantage to five with an RBI single to score Lenihan who started the rally with a one-out triple.

Facing a scoreline getting away from them, the Mavericks produced a five-run sixth inning, taking advantage of two infield errors and three consecutive walks along with a fielder’s choice.

“It’s a little bit of a scare, a team putting up five runs is horrifying on you,” said the Dawgs’ Logan Grant. “But I came in and told everyone in the dugout, ‘Let’s take a deep breath, we know who we are, we can hit the ball, we’re the Okotoks Dawgs.’”

Needing an answer, the Dawgs wrestled back momentum with a six-run bottom of the sixth.

Grant hit a clutch two RBI triple, Lenihan brought in Grant on a RBI single with Lumbard then scoring two on a liner over second base. A double steal play brought in Eric Machej to round out the six-run inning.

The resilience was a hallmark of the team all season.

“It’s the way we bounce back,” Grant said. “We had a couple rough stretches in there and next game back we would fire back and kept going. That was great and I think that’s what I’ll remember.”

Gavin Wuschke picked up the victory with 2.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen for the Dawgs with stalwart reliever Seth Thompson recording the final three outs.

On Wednesday, Mavericks came out swinging in Game 2 and made the most of their home field advantage with a 12-9 victory after building an early 11-2 advantage on the visitors through four innings.

“We got momentum at the end of that game and I think that carried over into tonight,” the coach added.

Okotoks took the series opener with an authoritative 8-0 performance on Tuesday as veteran lefty Graham Brunner stepped on the mound for 6.2 scoreless innings, holding the Mavs to just three hits. Luther and Cazorla both had round trippers in the shutout victory.

“This is the second year with most of the academy guys coming back,” Brunner said. “A lot of guys are proud to play for the Dawgs because they played for the academy and so am I, it’s been awesome and lifechanging for me to come to Okotoks.”

Brendan Luther, who earned the nickname Mr. August, was awarded as playoff MVP for the second consecutive season.

The shortstop hit for a .344 batting average with three home runs and 10 RBI in seven games.

“The kid just works, he works day in and day out, he’s in the weightroom, he never has a bad day,” Pote said. “He’s even-keeled as you want to be and he just rises to the occasion, he got us going the entire postseason. He’s just a phenomenal human being.”

Okotoks got contributions throughout the roster, one that was shrinking as the playoffs progressed with key players having to go back to college.

Academy standouts Machej and Hartman both made huge impacts in the final at the plate, on the basepaths and defensively.

“It’s like they’ve been here all year and that’s what the program does,” Pote added. “They’re in big situations on their teams and counted on so when they come into this environment, it doesn’t faze them at all.”

On top of the back-to-back championship, Okotoks has now won three of past four titles with the pandemic halting the 2020 season from getting off the ground.

“Last year we were very talented and this year, I think we’re just as talented and what we don’t have in talent, it’s grit,” said Luther, after Game 1 of the WCBL Final. “There’s a lot of guys at JUCOs and NAIAs, it’s guys that want to win, guys where this is the biggest stage they’ve ever played on.

“It’s just that grittiness of wanting to win over anything.”

The Dawgs have now won championships in the 2023, 2022, 2019, 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2004 seasons the latter of which while the team was still operating out of Calgary.

“It’s what we do here,” said Pote, in his first year as head coach. “I didn’t really feel any pressure because we had such a good core group of guys coming back home come through the academy and guys just buy into it.

“Being able to add another one is exactly what I wanted to do and it’s easy, when you get a group of guys like this, to step into this role.”

Remy Greer

About the Author: Remy Greer

Remy Greer is the assistant editor and sports reporter for and the Western Wheel newspaper. For story tips contact [email protected]
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