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Brandon Sun - PRINT EDITION

Familiar-looking Pilots expect turbulent ride in Border West

The Pilot Mound Pilots captured the Border West Baseball League title last summer, defeating the Winkler Whips 3-1 in the best-of-five championship final, and they’re looking for another.

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The Pilot Mound Pilots captured the Border West Baseball League title last summer, defeating the Winkler Whips 3-1 in the best-of-five championship final, and they’re looking for another.

The Pilot Mound Pilots are used to being underdogs in the Border West Baseball League.

Little by little, they climbed the standings each of the past few seasons but never could find their way to the championship series. That changed last season when the Pilots posted a 13-5 regular-season mark, tied for the best with the Winkler Whips but they were awarded first place based on winning the season series between the teams.

Home-field advantage came in handy during the playoffs as the Pilots needed three games to get past the Cartwright Twins in the best-of-three semifinals and four games to dispose of the Whips in the best-of-five final.

It was a huge season for a team that rejoined the Border West league in 2010, but it has forced the Pilots to have a different mindset as they prepare to begin the new season today.

"Usually we’re the underdog. Usually we’re the ones trying to make our way up the standings with not a lot of pressure on our backs, but it’s going to be different this year," said Pilots player-coach Clint Maxwell. "People are going to be coming at us right out of the gates. It’s going to be fun to play with that pressure the whole season.

"I think we expect every team this year to be a challenge and last year having the success we did and knowing what it takes to make it to the top is good for us and hopefully that will help us have some success this year."

Maxwell felt many of the players — such as his younger brother Vince Maxwell, a middle infielder, and Dylan Stone, a power hitter — started to come into their own and understand the game last season.

Adding championship experience will benefit the young Pilots even more this season. Anthony Friesen, a 27-year-old pitcher and coach, is the oldest player on the roster, of which the average age of the players is between 22 to 23.

The Pilots will look very familiar when they take the field against the host Twins in their season opener tonight at 7 o’clock as they return every player from last year’s squad. They also added Riley Hiebert, who Maxwell hopes will add some power to the middle of the batting lineup.

Having that familiarity and comfort level in the field is something Maxwell hopes will lead to a solid run at a second-straight title.

"It does definitely," he said. "When you have success like that, guys want to come back. This is the first year I think where we’ve had the exact same team coming back.

"Guys have good relationships and know how to play with each other and what the other guys are going to do. We know what each other is thinking in all these other situations, so I think that gives us an advantage going into this year in the league. I think we feel a lot more comfortable knowing the guys we’re standing beside, be it in the infield or outfield."

The Pilots aren’t expecting a relaxed flight to a second straight title. In fact, it could be a turbulent ride as every team in the league is expected to be competitive this summer. The Whips will be looking to gain a little revenge while the Morden Mohawks are targetting their fourth league title in five seasons. The Baldur Regals were in the previous three finals as well, while the Twins and Killarney Lakers are viewed as up-and-coming teams.

The triple round-robin schedule, which comprises of 18 games for each squad, will test each team.

"It’s too close to call," Maxwell said. "It could be six or even seven teams battling it out depending on who shows up on any given night. Last year we were lucky to come out on top with the bounces we got. There were five or six teams that could have won the league last year and would have been a good representative at provincials."

Gerry Janz, the head coach of the Regals, also believes the league is wide open and hopes his side can find a way to get back into the final.

"We have a lot of our regulars back again with some new younger players," he said. "We have some midget-high school players joining the squad. Most of our starting pitching is there that we had last year but we are a bit long in the tooth. Some of our regulars from the past year are coming back, but we’re getting up there in age so some of the younger guys are going to have to fill in some spots."

Some of the younger players joining the team this season are outfielder Jeremie Goderis of Swan Lake as well as locals Reese Johnson and Owen Walker.

Chris Reykdal will lead a strong pitching staff that will also include Derrick Jones, Reagan Johnson, Travis Strain and Bryan Evans.

Baldur begins play at home tonight against Killarney, while Morden visits Winkler. Clearwater’s first game is Tuesday in Morden.

Janz is ready for the new season to get underway.

"You bet," he said. "That’s always a rite of spring and it’s a home opener for us and a Friday night. We’re looking for a good night and a good crowd and a good ball game."

» cjaster@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @jasterch

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 19, 2017

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The Pilot Mound Pilots are used to being underdogs in the Border West Baseball League.

Little by little, they climbed the standings each of the past few seasons but never could find their way to the championship series. That changed last season when the Pilots posted a 13-5 regular-season mark, tied for the best with the Winkler Whips but they were awarded first place based on winning the season series between the teams.

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The Pilot Mound Pilots are used to being underdogs in the Border West Baseball League.

Little by little, they climbed the standings each of the past few seasons but never could find their way to the championship series. That changed last season when the Pilots posted a 13-5 regular-season mark, tied for the best with the Winkler Whips but they were awarded first place based on winning the season series between the teams.

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