Shawn Corness didn’t hestitate a second when asked when his University of the Fraser Valley Cascades will be able to go toe-to-toe with the mighty Prairie Baseball Academy.
“This year,” he said with a confident grin.
Those are two of the boldest words that could be spoken by a coach in the Canadian Colleges Baseball Conference.
The Prairie Dawgs, after all, have won the last seven league championships.
That’s not a typo.
But the Cascades threw a scare into the champs in last spring’s playoffs and with an impressive recruiting class joining UFV for the 2017 season, they think they can be the ones to end the PBA run.
“One real big kid we’ve got coming home after a couple years down south is Parker Logan,” Corness said. “He’s a left handed pitcher who played in Chilliwack through bantam and went down to Colorado.”
The Chilliwack secondary school grad played for Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, CO..
He struck out a batter per inning with the Plainsmen and Corness believes he’s a versatile addition to the UFV pitching staff.
“He’s a guy with college experience, and to have that guy who can either start from the left side or come out of the pen is a big upgrade from last year.”
Corness cast a large net in this round of recruiting, reeling in prospects from as far away as Ontario.
“We’ve got players from Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C., so it’s a big year across the country for us,” Corness confirmed. “I’m reaching out to some of my contacts and they’re seeing the progress of this program and the success we’re having.
“When you have success it gets out there and people start to take notice.
“A lot of it is players talking to other players too, and our players have good things to say about what we’re doing.”
Corness is excited about a prairie import, catcher Brody Vogel. He was the starting catcher for Team Saskatchewan, leading his province to gold at the 2016 Canada Cup, a best on best tournament for 15-17 year olds.
“I’m really excited to see how he fits in and I’m also excited about another transfer, Marcus Gregson.
A Surrey native, the six-foot-one and 220 pound right handed pitcher spent last season in Iowa with the Indian Hills Community College Falcons.
“He can be a 90 to 92 (miles per hour) guy on the mound, and because of myself and (assistant coach) Kyle Lotzkar, we were the choice for him,” Corness said.
Donovan Moorman is a former Chilliwack Minor Baseball all-star who was with UFV in the program’s inaugural season.
He had arm issues last year and decided to go to school and work rather than play ball.
“But he missed it enough that he’s back and that really excites me about our middle infield,” Corness said. “His arm is healthy, he looks good and I think he could be one of the best ones in our league.”
The pool of graduating Chilliwack Cougar talent is just three players deep this year and UFV missed out on two of them. Cade Smith is going to the University of Hawaii while Surrey native Trent King heads south to California Baptist.
But Trey Pankratz has signed on, bringing solid outfield defence and a knack for getting on base.
“He will get an opportunity to come in and play and show us what he can do,” Corness said.
Corness has six B.C. Premier Baseball League players coming in, more than ever before.
That list includes Walt Eschner, Will Chaba and Stephen Horner of the Whalley Chiefs, Tanner Carmont and Travis Klein of the White Rock Tritons and Christian Gilchrist from the Coquitlam Reds.
“The BCPBL kids mainly like to go across the line, but these ones see the benefits of staying home and getting an education at UFV,” Corness said. “They also see how good our program has become in a short amount of time.”
The net result of all of this, Corness hopes, is a team that is stronger in just about every area.
“We’ll be stronger on the hill, we’ll take a step forward defensively and offensively we’ll be better too,” the coach said. “So do I see us taking another step forward this year? Absolutely.”
But should PBA really be worried?
“We ran into one of the best pitchers in the league (Tanner Jesson-Dalton) in that semi-final (a 6-0 loss that ended UFV’s season),” Corness said. “He was throwing 89 to 90 with a punchout slider and that’s tough to compete against.
“But it was 2-0 (through three innings) and we were in that game.
“My takeaway was that we could compete with anybody in the league with a couple additions and I think we’ve got what we need.”