Geordie McDougall tags out a runner at third base during the Moose Jaw Miller Express' 6-5 season opening win over the Melville Millionaires at Ross Wells Park. (Photo: Marc Smith)
New head coach Rich Sorensen was pacing atop the dugout steps, the Melville Millionaires were threatening, but it all turned out in the home team's favour on opening night.
Despite some tense moments in the ninth inning, the Moose Jaw Miller Express held on for a 6-5 win over Melville at Ross Wells Park on Wednesday to open the 2019 season in the Western Canadian Baseball League.
Moose Jaw held a 6-3 lead heading into the ninth, but Melville scored twice and had the bases loaded with two outs before Millers catcher Cole Warken caught Millionaires outfielder Evan Moore leaning at third to end the game.
It was a little too close for comfort for Sorensen.
"I heard somebody in the stands and he goes 'Great job, coach' and I'm thinking, this game isn't over yet, it's only the top of the ninth," he said. "That's why they play nine innings and there are 27 outs, everyone is precious and everyone is hard to get."
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Despite the close ending, it was a stellar start to the season for the Millers, who built up a 6-0 lead in the game before the Millionaires started to climb back.
There was a bit of everything with the offence coming through on some big hits, the defence making some key plays and solid pitching throughout the night.
"It was a little bit stressful at the end there, but we pulled it through and got the win," said third baseman Geordie McDougall. "If we score that many runs every game, we're going to have a really good chance to have a good season."
Outfielder Eric Marriott receives congratulations from his teammates after a diving catch in the first inning. (Photo: Marc Smith)
McDougall hit a two-run home run well over the left field fence in the fifth inning which put the Millers in front 5-0 at the time.
Moose Jaw opened the scoring on a two-run double from Warken in the third. They added another run in the fourth when Eric Marriott came around to score on a bloop single from Michael Borst.
McDougall's homer followed in the fifth and Tucker Zunich added the sixth run with a single later in the inning.
The Millionaires didn't go away and they responded in the top of the sixth. Three straight walks followed by back-to-back singles from Braeden Dobbs and Cody Goggins led to three runs to get them back in the game.
Moose Jaw's offence went cold over the next four innings, sending the game into the ninth as a two-run contest.
The inning started off with Tracey Warren reaching on an error and Jake Green bringing him around with a double. Green would score on another error to make it a one-run game.
After a single from Moore, Millers pitcher Nathan Slobodian struck out Sam Cassel, walked Dalton Horner, struck out Marquis Irving and then walked Kaiden Zachacias to load the bases.
The Millers would get out of trouble when a dropped pitch pulled Moore off the bag and Warken was able to throw him out at third.
"We're going to swing it really well every day and our pitchers are always going to give us a chance to win and I'm looking forward to the rest of the year," said McDougall.
McDougall and Warken finished with two RBI each, while Marriott was 1-for-2 with two runs and a stolen base out of the lead-off spot.
Starting pitcher Blake Gallagher delivers a pitch during Wednesday's 6-5 win over the Melville Millionaires at Ross Wells Park. (Photo: Marc Smith)
On the mound, Blake Gallagher was lights out in a short start for the Millers, throwing three scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and one walk and striking out five.
"I think it shocked him that I asked him to start, but he was our leader from last year and he set the tone for us, he threw three scoreless innings and he probably could have gone more, and you could just tell he was a gamer," said Sorensen.
Sorensen also credited reliever Jack Gamba, who went 2 2/3 scoreless innings with four strikeouts.
Nick Falco was tagged with three runs on one hit and four walks in 2 1/3 innings, while Slobodian gave up two runs -- one earned -- on two hits and two walks in the ninth.
Melville started Ryan Moormeyer allowed two runs on one hit and five walks over three innings. He struck out six.
Coming out of the opener, Sorensen has some areas that he wants to see the Millers work on, starting with execution in some key situations.
"A lot of the guys aren't used to bunting and you could see how important for us to get that bunt down [in the eighth inning with runners on first and second and no outs] and we didn't do it, and that's what these guys are going to have to buy into," he said.
The Millers get another shot at it on Thursday night when they travel to Swift Current and then the 57s will come to Ross Wells Park on Friday night (7 p.m.) as Moose Jaw opens a three-game weekend homestand.