Vancouver Island Baseball Institute Mariners shortstop Dallas Monk fields a ground ball during a drill at practice Tuesday afternoon at Serauxmen Stadium.

Vancouver Island Baseball Institute Mariners shortstop Dallas Monk fields a ground ball during a drill at practice Tuesday afternoon at Serauxmen Stadium.

Anticipation building for VIBI’s home opener

Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Baseball Institute team steps up to the plate Saturday (March 23) for the start of the CCBC season.

It’s a new season and there’s a ballpark full of possibilities for the VIBI Mariners.

Nanaimo’s Vancouver Island Baseball Institute team steps up to the plate Saturday (March 23) for the start of the Canadian College Baseball Conference season.

The M’s have played in three-straight national finals, winning it all in 2010, and they will put another strong entry on the field for 2013.

“It is definitely our plan to be in contention when the big games come around and play well in those big games,” said Jordan Blundell, VIBI manager.

But the focus now is on the present, which is Saturday’s season opener at Serauxmen Stadium against Lethbridge, Alta.’s Prairie Baseball Academy Dawgs.

“They were the champs last year; it’s always fun to open up against them, see where we stand,” Blundell said. “We’ll be ready to go.”

The M’s got in a lot of game action in spring training and won two out of three last weekend in exhibition play.

“We’re playing good ball right now, everything’s kind of coming together,” said Reiley Grose, VIBI pitcher. “The pitching’s been strong and the bats are coming alive – it’s good timing, to happen now.”

Getting the start in the opener will be big righty Connor Russell, and Cody Chartrand and Grose are other guys who will start games during the series. They’ll be supported by another seven or eight members of the pitching staff, all of whom are healthy and ready to go.

“It’s nice to be able to trust the guys coming in behind you, that they’ll throw strikes, and there’s a good core of a starting rotation, too,” Grose said.

On offence, one of the leaders will be shortstop Dallas Monk, who has been giving the team consistently good at-bats at the top of the order. Newcomer Darren Kolk has had a strong spring and Blundell is interested to see the centre fielder in CCBC league play. Another new addition to the lineup is freshman Tyson Dyck, who will slot in at third base. Veterans Cody Andreychuk and Aaron Witzke will be important middle-of-the-order guys. Andreychuk will play designated hitter, while also manning the outfield on occasion, and Witzke will be in right. Veteran catcher Jeremy Harasymchuk is a leader of the defence and trusted to call the right pitches.

“Our lineup is doing their jobs, moving guys over, scoring runs when we need to come up clutch,” said Chad Schultz, VIBI second baseman.

Blundell said at this early stage of spring, his batters seem to be swinging at the right pitches.

“They’re picking out a pitch that they’re looking for and they’re taking a hack on it,” he said. “Now it’s building that consistency and making good contact on those swings.”

Aside from baseball fundamentals, Blundell also wants to see what sort of compete level his team brings into league play.

“[We need to] be emotionally invested and be prepared for a battle,” he said. “Be prepared to withstand things not going our way at times and be able to overcome those things.”

Emotion shouldn’t be a problem – it’s the home opener, after all, and the M’s have been feeling the anticipation building.

“We’ve done a lot of work through the fall and we’re hungry to get on the field and start playing an actual game instead of going through the repetitions,” Grose said. “We feel ready and it’s going to be a good weekend.”

GAME ON … The VIBI Mariners play doubleheaders against the PBA Dawgs on Saturday (March 23) and Sunday at Serauxmen Stadium. Saturday’s games will be at noon and 2:30 p.m. and Sunday’s games start at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m … The ball club will be raffling off Vancouver Canucks tickets during Saturday’s early game.

sports@nanaimobulletin.com