By Randy Palmer

Moose Jaw closes within game of first place overall in WCBL with 15-7 win over Swift Current on Sunday afternoon

When Moose Jaw Miller Express head coach Eric Marriott said prior to the start of the 2023 Western Canadian Baseball League campaign that he was looking for an even better regular season from his crew, many onlookers likely scoffed at the prospect.

The team was coming off a team-record 33 wins the previous season and had come within a single game of winning the East Division outright, not including what they ended up accomplishing in the playoffs. So to actually improve would be a tall order, indeed.

Or maybe not.

Not only have the Miller Express done just that, they’ve done so in style — the team picked up their 35th win of the campaign on Sunday afternoon with a 14-7 win over the Swift Current 57’s, clinched the East Division title earlier in the week and are now even closing in on first place overall in the WCBL.

Not too shabby, and something Marriott hopes is just a sign of things to come.

“It’s been an exciting season for us as a coaching staff, a team and an organization,” Marriott said shortly after meeting with the team after their win. “We expected to build off last year and we set some goals and we’ve hit a couple of them and still have a couple more to hit for the rest of the year.

“I’m super proud of the boys, they’ve been awesome all season. Getting 35 wins, it’s not a fluke at this point. Two years back-to-back (setting team win records) and winning the East outright so early, it shows how much grit these guys have.”

Finishing off the East Division title — which the Express did on Wednesday with a 9-4 win in Swift Current — was paramount, especially given how they lost the title on the last day of the season in 2022.

“It was super important to us, home field advantage is super important in this league and our fans are the best,” Marriott said matter-of-factly. “No team wants to come to Ross Wells and play us, and if we can secure it early like we did, it makes a big difference. Now we just have to hit our peak going into playoffs and not be content with where we’re at. It’ll be a tough game for someone coming in here for Game 1, for sure.”

The Express could have simply thrown things into cruise control and relaxed heading into the playoffs, but with Okotoks and Sylvan Lake having fallen back to the pack over the last week, Moose Jaw is now a single game back of the Dawgs for first place overall and home field throughout the playoffs.

“Our number one goal is to win a championship and if we can get home field in the championship series, that’s what we’re gonna do,” Marriott said. “We have five games left here and if they drop another one, we’re right there. We’re one game back right now and if we can get home ice advantage all the way through, that would be a great time.”

Sunday’s outing was a return to form for the offence, beginning with a six-run first inning that saw a three-run double from Greyson Barrett and three batters later a three-run home run off the bat of Julio Acosta.

The 57’s clawed their way back to within a pair heading into the bottom of the third, but that would be as close as they’d get. Two Moose Jaw runs in the bottom of the frame and five more in the fourth, and things were all but academic.

Dougie DelaCruz added a solo home run in the fourth inning and finished his afternoon 3-for-4 with four runs scored. Acosta was 1-for-2 and drew three walks, scored three runs and had four RBI, while Barrett was 3-for-5 with a run and three RBI.

Cameron Dunn got the start and allowed three runs on two hits over the first two innings before giving way to Andrew Barger, who allowed a single run on two hits in an inning of work.

Julian Gonzalez and Triston Seitz each tossed two scoreless before Kaleb Waller allowed three runs in the eighth. Bobby Pokorney finished things off with a scoreless ninth.

The Express are back in action on Tuesday, Aug. 1 and Wednesday, Aug. 2 when they host the Medicine Hat Mavericks. Game times are 7 p.m. at Ross Wells Park.