New West's diamond underdogs scrap their way to 18+ semifinal

The New Westminster Twins are doing baseball the “old school” way – and loving it.

The Lower Mainland Baseball League team advanced to the Bunnett Division semifinals with a dramatic 5-4 victory last week against the Coquitlam Cardinals, scoring the winning run in the top of the ninth inning then shutting the door to cap an intense run.

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Now, they’ve got to do it again.

While long ball is the route to victory in Major League Baseball, small ball remains a vital part of strategy on the local diamond. Playing on their own Queen’s Park Stadium dirt, the Twins have jumped into the playoff fray swinging.

Sora Sakaue led off the ninth with a single and reached second on a throwing error. He scored on Rich Lowe’s single to right field to give New West a one-run lead. Pitcher Sean McCallum, who entered the game trailing 3-0 in the fifth inning, recorded the final three outs to pick up the win.

“We previously played (the Cardinals) earlier in the year and got beat 10-0, (and that) wasn’t a strong game on our part,” remarked McCallum in an email. “So we wanted to make sure at the very least we made this game more competitive.”

Although starting pitcher Joe Conti surrendered the game’s first three runs, the veteran hurler was facing the 18-plus league’s top offensive power. He handed the ball to McCallum after four innings, just as the Twins’ bats started to come alive. New West led 4-3 entering the bottom of the eighth when Coquitlam charged back, scoring once and putting runners on first and second with no outs.

Seventh overall in the division during the regular season, the Twins got out of that dilemma and went on to win it.

McCallum, who took over the coaching reins when long-time bench bosses Ron Suffron and Paul Harris chose to spend more time with their families, sees this group as a bunch of survivors.

They opened the season with a hard-fought win over the South Delta Padres, then lost the next five.

“That was a tough stretch for us,” the 10-year team veteran said. “(It) seemed like we couldn’t get a bounce our way, and couldn’t find hits at the plate when we needed them the most. We continued to grind through practices to work on our weaknesses, and ended up finishing the season 7-1-1 over our last 9 games.

“The team showed a lot of heart down that stretch and really put the league on notice that the Twins were back.”

It put them at 8-6-1 and major underdogs entering the playoffs. That didn’t deter them at all, and their underdog status will only be fodder for Sunday’s 3 p.m. semifinal against the same Padres, at Queen’s Park Stadium.

McCallum, who pursued his baseball dream all the way to a full-ride scholarship to a junior college in Kansas before injuring his arm, said the team has succeeded when it counted, thanks to a great blend of veterans and newcomers.

Long-time Twins Mark Virginillo, Leo Guevarra, Talon Van Horn and Conti lead the way, with newcomers like Brandon Kirk, Miles Lavigne, Liam Morrison, Chase Scobie and Ben Karwacki jumping right into the lineup.

Virginillo held the hottest bat on the team during the regular season, swatting .378 including 17 runs and nine stolen bases. Chipping in with a .358 average and eight RBI was McCallum.

A victory Sunday would catapult New West to the Bunnett Division final Sept. 8 in Richmond.

Queen’s Park is hosting a big portion of the LMBL playoffs this weekend, Saturday featuring a pair of 45-over contests, at 3 p.m., with the defending champion Whalley Chiefs taking on the Dewdney Bulls, followed by the Newton Beavers and the Newton Pirates at 6 p.m.

On Sunday, the 30+ division semifinal hits the diamond, with the Burnaby Brewers playing seven-time LMBA champs the Richmond Rainers at 9 a.m., while eight-time LMBA champ the Howe Sound Hounds face the Langley Knights at noon, prior to the Twins’ battle with South Delta (3 p.m.).

In the nightcap, Bunnett Division rivals the Coquitlam Thunder play the Vancouver Mounties square off at 6 p.m.

On both days, the New West hosts will be operating a beer garden and concession stand, with proceeds going to support New West Little League.

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