The Cloverdale Nationals lost only two games in the entire 2017 College Prep baseball season, but Shawn Corness and his Chilliwack Cougars weren’t the least bit intimidated when the teams squared off Monday at Fairfield Island in the final of B.C. Baseball College Prep provincials.
Those two Cloverdale losses? Both at the hands of the Cougars, who also beat them three times in tournament play.
To other opponents the Nationals may have been some unbeatable beast. To Chilliwack, Cloverdale was one more hurdle to overcome on the way to a second straight B.C. title.
“It wasn’t a thing where we were up against some giant,” said Corness, the Cougars manager. “Our mandate from day one has been to worry about ourselves and not worry about who we’re playing.
“Our guys said, ‘It’s just another game. Let’s go play how we can play.”
Minnesota Twins draft pick and University of Hawaii commit Cade Smith got the start for Chilliwack and struggled early. The Nationals tagged him for three runs in the first inning and the Cougars reeled against the ropes.
“They (Cloverdale) were pretty jacked up, but we’ve always pushed our guys to never worry about winning a game in the first inning,” Corness said. “We told them, ‘It’s a long game yet. Just keep pressing. Keep working hard.’
“Sure enough, we got one back in the bottom of the first to make it 3-1 and just kept scrapping away.”
Smith settled in and started mowing down Cloverdale batters, and his teammates started chipping away against Nationals starter Spencer Pawliw.
The Cougars clawed back to even by the fifth inning. Then, tied 4-4, Chilliwack got a couple men on base and celebrated as a Dylan Merritt drove in the go-ahead run with a clutch base hit.
Smith was rolling on the mound, but pitch count rules meant he had to come out of the game in the sixth.
Ray trotted in from the bullpen, inheriting one runner from Smith, who walked the last Cloverdale batter he faced. Ray set the Nationals down 1-2-3, getting a ground ball and two flies to end the inning and the game.
“We’re a very scrappy team that doesn’t give up,” Corness said proudly. “There was no way we were going to give in. We were going to fight to the very last out and that’s what our boys did.
“That’s a big part of who we are.”
“I don’t think it’s easy in any sport to go back to back championships, and to do it with a very young team is very significant.”
Corness and company now head to New Jersey for the North American College Prep Championships where they’ll be joined by a team from Ontario and a bunch of American foes.
The Cougars have picked up reinforcements from vanquished B.C. College Prep squads, adding Brayden Carpenter from Richmond, Daniel Gernon and Jakob Iversen from Cloverdale and Derek Pecht from Tri-Cities.
“This is the first time for a B.C. champion doing this and we’re excited to go challenge ourselves against some real good high school teams,” Corness said. “I think we’ll do all right.”