By REMY GREER
Playoff baseball is in full cycle for the sparkplug of the Okotoks Dawgs.
Dawgs infielder Ricardo Sanchez hit for the cycle with a home run, two triples, double, single and four RBI to power Okotoks to a 14-6 victory over the Brooks Bombers Monday night at Seaman Stadium in Game 1 of the Western Canadian Baseball League West Division Semifinal.
“As soon as I hit the blooper single I thought, ‘OK, I’m one hit away.’ And then it happened,” Sanchez said. “All of my hits were with two strikes and before that in my head I’m thinking, ‘This pitcher is not better than me, I’m going to hit off the pitcher.’ That’s all it is.”
Brooks opened the game, its first postseason match in franchise history, in fine form with Matt Wolff taking Okotoks ace Graham Brunner deep for a two-run home run in the top of the first inning.
Okotoks responded in kind with Sanchez hitting his first of two RBI triples and outfielder Micah McDowell adding a RBI on a fielder’s choice.
“They’re a good team and they can hit the ball really well and we knew that coming in,” said Dawgs catcher Jacob Morrow. “That was our game plan, just to get after them and offensively do what we do.”
The Dawgs added three in the third through Sanchez, McDowell and an RBI knock from Connor Crowson.
Brooks countered with three to tie the game at five in the fourth before Okotoks rebounded with three in the bottom of the inning.
Morrow hit an RBI double and would score on Sanchez’s two-run home run over the left field wall.
“I don’t know what it was today,” Sanchez said. “I had a slow start in the season and I ended pretty good, finished pretty hot and now it’s playoff time to just keep doing my thing.”
Sanchez hit a bloop single in his fourth at-bat putting himself a double away from the cycle. He completed the feat in the seventh inning with a fly ball to right field to the delight of the Dawgs supporters who gave the fan-favourite a rousing standing ovation.
“It’s a special moment,” said Sanchez, a Dawgs Academy alumnus from Mexico City. “I love the fans and I want to play here for the next three years, I just want to come back. This is like my home.”
Brunner, the only pitcher in the WCBL with seven wins in the regular season, picked up the victory with a huge assist to the bullpen as relievers Cade Hermann, Quinn Tocheniuk, Ryan McFarland, Seth Thompson and Matt Wilkinson combined to shut down the Bombers over the final half of the game.
At the plate, McDowell had a 4-for-5 performance with four RBI as four Dawgs registered multi-hit nights.
But make no mistake, this was Sanchez’s night.
“He’s honestly the best,” said Morrow. “He brings energy every day, when you’re around him you just laugh. I love the guy, we all love him and he’s kind of the best teammate you could ever ask for.
“He’s the sparkplug of the team.”
Okotoks vaulted into the playoffs on the heels of a record-setting end to the regular season.
The Dawgs (43-13) won nine of their final 10 games to set a new WCBL single season wins record at 43, eclipsing the previous benchmark of 41 set in the 2019 campaign by Regina.
A two-game sweep over the Bombers in a home-and-home set on Aug. 5-6 sealed the historic deal for the Dawgs.
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Brooks. If necessary, Game 3 is Wednesday, Aug. 10 at Seaman Stadium.
The other West Division semifinal series has the Sylvan Lake Gulls and Fort McMurray Giants locking horns.
Both Brooks and Fort McMurray are making their first appearances in the postseason since joining the WCBL.
“We’re 0-0 right now and that’s the gameplan,” Morrow said. “Every game is the biggest game of our season and we just have to go out and compete and win each pitch and win the day.”
In the East, the first-round playoff matchups pit the top-seed Regina Red Sox and Medicine Hat Mavericks with the other series featuring the Moose Jaw Miller Express and Swift Current 57s.
Following the conclusion of the first round series, the WCBL Division finals will begin Aug. 12.
The Dawgs will have home-field advantage for the duration of their playoff run.
News and Notes… The Dawgs finished the regular season leading in more than a few categories. To the surprise of no one, Okotoks topped the attendance figures for the WCBL with an average of 4,216 fans per night at Seaman Stadium. Sylvan Lake was second at 1,291 and Medicine Hat third with 1,178. The Dawgs ended the season leading the league in runs (437), hits (607), doubles (135), triples (35), earned runs against (199), walks allowed (188) and wild pitches (57), fielding percentage (.977) and had the lowest amount of errors (46).