By KEVIN GLEW
OKOTOKS, Alberta – Sylvan Lake Gulls infielder Ethan He delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning to give the West All-Stars a 9-8 win over their Eastern counterparts in the Western Canadian Baseball League All-Star Game that was played in front of a jam-packed Seaman Stadium crowd of 6,000 on Saturday night.
The hit, He’s second in three at bats in the contest, earned him the game’s MVP award.
The 5-foot-10 Utah native, who attends Dixie State University, singled to right field after East pitching coach Tyler Jeske opted to go with a five-man infield and two outfielders.
“I was a little confused [at first], but it made it a little bit easier for myself I would say,” said He of the defensive alignment.
“I was just fighting off pitches, got the right one and just got it through [to right field] and that’s all that mattered.”
He ranks the hit among the top moments of his young career.
“It’s awesome. It’s a moment I won’t forget in my life,” said He.
“I love seeing all of these amazing Canadians out there. I wanted to win the game in front of them, in front of an awesome crowd.”
He’s heroics ended a back-and-forth contest that was the centerpiece of the WCBL’s All-Star Festivities, held at the home of the Okotoks Dawgs, that also included a home run derby, Canadian baseball legend Matt Stairs (Fredericton, N.B.) throwing out the first pitch and postgame fireworks.
The West won despite a rocky first inning that saw starter Wataru Murakami, of the Edmonton Prospects, roughed up for three runs, thanks to three singles a hit by pitch and an error by second baseman Charlie Towers (Fort McMurray Giants). And the damage could’ve been worse if West right fielder Kaden Zarowny, of the Sylvan Lake Gulls, hadn’t gunned down Weyburn Beavers slugger Nolan Machibroda with an excellent throw at the plate
In the third inning, Okotoks Dawgs shortstop Alejandro Cazorla, a late addition to the All-Star Game, gave the home crowd something to cheer about when he socked a two-run triple that tied the game. Fellow Dawg Brendan Luther, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, scored the first run of the inning on a wild pitch.
The West added to their lead in the fifth inning when Nick Gravel, of the Lethbridge Bulls, hit a leadoff double and then scored on a triple by Fort McMurray Giants outfielder Reiss Calvin. Calvin then crossed the plate on a wild pitch to make the score 5-3.
In the following frame, Ricardo Sanchez, another Dawg added to the West All-Star team on Saturday, singled in his first at bat of the night. He then advanced on a wild pitch and scored from second base on an infield single by Lethbridge Bulls catcher Roger Riley to make the score 6-3.
But things unraveled for the West in the eighth inning when the East tallied five runs on five hits against right-hander Edmonton Prospects hurler Ethan Cernohous. Swift Current 57’s infielder Tejean Smith delivered the biggest blow with a one-out, two run single.
The East held an 8-6 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth when Drew Mackie clubbed a one-out double that scored Edmonton Prospects outfielder Caleb Feuerstake and Calvin to tie the game.
The East threatened in the top of the 10th, beginning the inning with a ghost runner at second base. Swift Current 57’s catcher Logan Grant delivered a two-out single, but the runner was gunned down by an absolute laser of a throw from Brooks Bombers left fielder Drew Mackie for the third out of the inning.
This set the stage for He’s heroics in the bottom of the ninth. The West began with a ghost runner on second and then Sanchez walked. Riley belted a ball to deep centre field that was caught but advanced the runners to second and third, setting the stage for He to supply his walk-off hit.
No pitcher tossed more than an inning for the East and West squads. Dawgs left-hander Noah Geekie, who threw a scoreless 10th, pick up the win for the West, while Zac Robinson, of the Medicine Hat Mavericks, took the loss.
With stolen bases, two players gunned down at the plate, two triples and plenty of runs scored, the game, played in an electric atmosphere at Seaman Stadium, certainly didn’t lack excitement. It marked a successful return of the WCBL All-Star Game which hadn’t taken place since 2019 due to the pandemic.
“I would love for people to come here and see this atmosphere,” said He after his game-winning hit. “This is just awesome.”
MACHIBRODA WINS HOME RUN DERBY
Weyburn Beavers slugger Nolan Marchibroda stole the show in the WCBL Home Run Derby.
The Saskatoon, Sask., native belted nine home runs in the first round, which was the highest number of the eight derby participants.
He then clubbed six more in the final round to defeat Edmonton Prospects outfielder Jordan Phillips, who had led off the final round with five taters.
“It was awesome. It was really fun. That was my first home run derby ever,” said Machibroda after the derby.
“It was a really cool experience and I got to hit with some really good hitters out there … I was lucky to put on a show in front of these great fans.”
The 6-foot-3 Marchibroda, who has belted six home runs for the Weyburn Beavers during the WCBL regular season, had his parents, Ray and Darlene, and his brother, Evan, in the stands cheering him on.
His derby pitcher was Dusty Kerns, the head coach of the Weyburn Beavers, whose flow was another star of the show Saturday evening.
“Yesterday we took normal rounds of BP and I changed my swing to try to hit home runs,” said Machibroda after the derby, “but as far as the three minutes for all of the swings, I was absolutely beat by about a minute thirty.”
A number of Machibroda’s home runs ricocheted off the right field scoreboard and he clobbered so many balls over the right field fence that he attracted a crowd of youngsters outside Seaman Stadium.
“I can hit them pretty far when I get a hold of them, so it’s fun to show off my power a little bit,” said the modest Machibroda, with some prodding from the interviewer.
Machibroda, who’s in his third WCBL season with the Beavers, put up otherworldly collegiate numbers for the NAIA’s Cumberland Bulldogs in Lebanon, Tenn., in 2022, batting .460 with 17 home runs and 83 RBIs in 47 games.
Phillips, an outfielder with the Edmonton Prospects, put up a valiant fight in the derby. The Pasadena, Tex., was the only entrant in the derby who had yet to hit a home run in the WCBL regular season. But he managed 11 in total in the derby.
So after his power display on Saturday, will there be more home run derbies for Machibroda in the future?
“Yeah, hopefully,” said Machibroda. “That was a good time.
Home Run Derby Results by Round:
Nate Bach – 3
Braden Desonia – 0
Nolan Machibroda – 9
Nate Mensik – 0
Kaden Zarowny – 0
Matt Wolff – 0
Jordan Phillips – 6
McCoy Pearce – 4
Jordan Phillips – 5
Nolan Machibroda – 6