Premier showing: Victoria Eagles, Nanaimo Pirates on the rise

When B.C. Premier Baseball League Nanaimo Pirates pitching graduate Josh Burgmann last week became the highest B.C. player taken in the 2019 MLB draft, selected in the fifth round by the Chicago Cubs, it continued an impressive tradition.

Current or past BCPBL alumni in the MLB include Nick Pivetta out of the Victoria Eagles, Michael Saunders and Rich Harden out of the Victoria Mariners, Taylor Green out of the Parksville Royals along with Brett Lawrie, Ryan Dempster, Larry Walker, Justin Morneau, Jeff Francis, Adam Loewen, James Paxton and Tyler O’Neill.

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“[Burgmann] has a bulldog mentality and is just a monster on the mound,” said Nanaimo head coach Doug Rogers, in his 10th season guiding the BCPBL team, and 35th in the Pirates organization.

“I coached him since he was a kid. Josh was a baseball rat, always around the ballpark, soaking up everything he could. This is another awesome achievement for the BCPBL.”

John Barsby Secondary student Burgmann, who pitched Canada to sixth place at the 2015 world U-18 championship in Osaka, Japan, was taken by the Cubs out of the University of Washington Huskies. He is described by West Coast League Victoria HarbourCats GM Jim Swanson as the best pitching prospect from the Island since Harden.

The next generation out of the BCPBL also includes 2017-graduated Mariners star Jason Willow, who began as a kid in the Eagles organization. The Baltimore Orioles draft pick and now sophomore, who captained Canada to the bronze-medal game of the 2017 U-18 World Cup, was an honourable mention on the conference all-star team for NCAA Big West Conference-champion UC-Santa Barbara.

Meanwhile, the 2019 BCPBL season continues with the Eagles and Mariners meeting in the capital derby tonight at 6 p.m. at Rotary Park in Sidney.

The Eagles, to use the most obvious metaphor associated with their team nickname, are soaring. Not only are they 4-0, and 8-2 in the last 10 league games, but they went all the way to the championship game of the Langley Invitational last weekend before losing in the final to the Okotoks Baseball Academy of Alberta.

“Most of those Okotoks Academy players go on to the Canadian junior national team and U.S. colleges,” said Eagles general manager Ron Arcuri.

Canadian junior national team pitcher Gavin Pringle leads an outstanding Eagles pitching staff, which contributed five hurlers last year to the B.C. U-17 team for the Canada Cup. Eagles pitcher Kaleb Nantes leads the league with seven wins with a top-five ERA of 1.55.

The eighth-place Eagles come into tonight 17-13 and the 10th-place Mariners 8-14 with the clubs having split their previous games this season.

“No matter where they are in the standings, Eagles-Mariners is always a big rivalry game,” said Eagles GM Arcuri.

But the Island story of the BCPBL season has been the league-leading Pirates at 19-6, which is one game up on the second-place Coquitlam Reds.

The Pirates and Eagles meet in a key Island-derby double-header Sunday at Serauxmen Stadium in Nanaimo.

The Pirates, also known as Mid-Island, tied 3-3 against the Eagles in the Langley Invitational with the Eagles advancing in the playoff round on tiebreakers and making it to the final against Okotoks. So it will be a bit of a grudge doubleheader at Serauxmen for the Pirates.

“We are where we are in the standings because our kids are in their third season in the league,” said Pirates skipper Rogers.

“We got it handed to us in that first season with this group and part of last season before we snagged the eighth and final playoff berth. That gave our players a taste of what the playoffs are all about. They learned the ropes. Now this season, they are a confident group that just goes out on the field and gets it done.”

And getting it done in maybe the toughest and best high-school age baseball league in Canada.

“We don’t get the fanfare the Dub [WHL] does in hockey,” said Rogers. “But look at our league’s alumni like Francis, Morneau, Lawrie and 40 to 60 of our league’s alumni players currently in college or minor-pro . . . the BCPBL has dominated this level of Canadian baseball.”

You can’t always have a Burgmann on the mound, however. This year’s Pirates might not boast the starriest constellation in the BCPBL in terms of individual stats, but certainly in overall team stats.

“We don’t have junior-national team guys but we have lots of players who play really well at every position,” said Rogers.

“We are built deep, which in baseball means, we are built for the playoffs.”

The other Island team in the 13-team BCPBL is previous powerhouse Parksville Royals, going through a rebuilding phase this season in 12th place at 5-23.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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