The Sylvan Lake Gulls season came to a close last week after being swept by the Okotoks Dawgs in the West Division final in the Western Canadian Baseball League.
After defeating the Fort McMurray Giants in the opening round of the postseason, the Gulls faced the Dawgs in a battle of the two best teams in the league.
The Gulls lost the first game 4-0 on the road but lost a tight game two at home in front of a sold-out crowd 4-3. Heading into the final inning, the Gulls were up 3-2 but the Dawgs scored two runs in the top of the ninth and clinched the series win.
Ty Boudreau pitched five and one-third of an inning striking out five and allowing only two hits. Josh Tucker came into the game in relief also striking out five batters and allowing two runs. Right fielder Sam Stem went three-for-five with one RBI in the game.
Head coach Jason Chatwood said his team battled really hard and it was a closely fought series.
“In the end, they just executed a little bit better on a couple of things,” Chatwood said. “Even throughout the whole year playing against them any mistakes or any freebies that we would give them they took advantage of and I think that had happened in the series overall with them too. Just a couple of little things that didn’t go our way but it was a battle all the way to the end and we played hard.”
During the regular season, the Gulls who finished the year 38-18 were 2-9 against the Dawgs who sat in first place with a league record of 43-18. Chatwood said what made Okotoks challenging to play against was their experienced lineup.
“I thought there were times when we played against them our youth and potential inexperience showed at times. I think at times too our guys wanted to beat them so bad that I felt like they pressed a little bit and that’s just kind of the way it goes when you want something that bad,” he said.
Chatwood said he felt the last five games against the Dawgs were an improvement over the first five and anyone who watched the playoffs saw how close the matchup was with Okotoks.
As disappointing as it was to end their season that way Chatwood hopes his team can look back and realize there are lots of things to be happy about. With the two wins against the Giants in the playoffs, the Gulls finished the year with 40 wins and were second overall in the WCBL regular season.
“Really this is our inaugural year as far as the entire league and I mean there’s lots of positives as far as how the guys played, competed, and worked. As a coaching staff, we’re extremely happy with how the players played and how things went. It’s just like I said in a three-game series anything can happen.”
The Gulls broke their attendance record numerous times throughout the season including twice during their playoff run up to nearly 1,800 people per game.
“That playoff game at home against Okotoks that atmosphere was electric. It’s hard to explain what that was like for the guys to play in front of but it was a lot of fun. The support that the Sylvan Lake community and central Alberta community showed for us was outstanding and very appreciated and the guys just loved playing for our fans at home,” Chatwood said.
Sylvan Lake had many individual break-out performances from multiple players this year. Second-year player Tyler McWillie from Watrous, Sask. finished the year tied for the league lead in home runs with 11.
Pitching was also a strong suit for the Gulls as first-year players Ty Boudreau and Josh Tucker were tied for second in the league in wins with six each. Tucker broke the WCBL single-season strikeout record with 91 and was third among pitchers with a 2.24 ERA. Boudreau was fourth in strikeouts with 72 and threw the franchise’s first solo no-hitter in June against the Weyburn Beavers.
Sylvan Lake also sent five players to the All-Star Game in Okotoks including Ethan He, Josh Tucker, Ty Boudreau, Steven Hospital, and Kaden Zarowny. He won the game for the West Division All-Stars on a walk-off single in the 10th inning.
“I think from top to bottom we were extremely talented and we had a lot of guys with individual accolades that played extremely well and I think from the start of the season to the end of the season all of our players improved,” Chatwood said. “They worked hard and they came every day to try to get better and a lot of those guys’ individual results showed and I also think that the work they put in too I think was a major reason for our team’s success.”
In the Gulls’ second year in the league, this was the first time American players were allowed to play as only Canadian players could play due to COVID-19 protocols the year prior. Chatwood expects there to be a core of guys who will return to the team next year from America. There are a few factors in play, Chatwood said it’s dependent on where the player’s university teams want them to play in the summer.
“Talking to the guys and the experience they had in Sylvan Lake it felt like a second home for them with how they were treated, the relationships they had, and how close they got with their host families. A lot of guys at the end of the year didn’t really seem ready to go home yet so I think that shows how special the place was for guys and how much they appreciated being here and playing for the Gulls.”