An opening-day loss at the Western Canadian bantam AA baseball championship was more costly for the Estevan Sherritt Coal Haulers than they thought.
The Haulers posted a 2-2 round-robin record at the weekend tournament in Morden, Man., which tied them for second place in the five-team field.
The team they tied was the entry from Strathmore, Alta., which had beaten them 7-1 in the tournament opener on Friday.
That victory gave Strathmore the tiebreaker and a spot in Sunday's final, which they lost 6-5 to Chilliwack, B.C.
Haulers head coach Kent Phillips said his team should have won that first game.
"We definitely were a better team than they were, we just couldn't hit the ball that game," he said.
"The runs that they scored were bloop hits that fell in. Nothing was hit hard all game. Neither side looked overly sharp. You could tell it was our first game in awhile."
It was the Haulers' first game action since winning the provincial championship July 22 in Estevan.
Carson Perkins got the start for the Haulers, with Colton Gingras coming on later in relief.
The Haulers rebounded later in the day, defeating Morden 5-1 to even their record.
"We started hitting the ball better, but we still weren't quite to where we were at provincials," said Phillips.
Tanner Fritzke of Swift Current, one of two players the Haulers added to their roster for Westerns, started the game on the mound. Brandon Hutt got some work in relief.
A 7-3 victory over Altona, Man., on Saturday saw the team's other import, Dustin Schill of Wawota, dominate on the hill with a complete game.
"Our bats came alive, plus our pitcher was unbelievable," said Phillips. "He threw 86 pitches in six innings, then we had to wait an hour and a half for a rain delay, then he finished it off with seven more pitches to get three outs. He pitched unreal. He was the star of that game, that's for sure."
Sunday's game against Chilliwack was a must-win to advance to the final for a rematch, but the Haulers lost 11-5 to the eventual tournament champs.
Estevan had a shot, too, leading 5-1 at one point.
"That was the one that kind of got away from us," Phillips said. "They switched a couple of kids out and went to their bench. A couple of errors on our side, a couple of good hits on their side, a couple of walks and it got away from us."
Perkins got the start but struggled with control problems before giving way to Fritzke and Hutt.
Phillips said the fact that the team hadn't played in more than three weeks was evident, especially with the Chilliwack team still in the middle of a long season in B.C.
"When you've got that long of a layoff ... it would've been nice if we could've gone in right after provincials, because that was when we were playing our best baseball."
He said this year's Haulers was the best all-around team he's coached in 14 years with Estevan Minor Baseball.
"I've had some stronger ones at the top of my order before, but I've never had a complete 1-13 (batting order) before. My bottom end was better than my bottom end years ago."
The team is losing seven of its 13 players to graduation. They include Brandon Hutt, Colton Gingras, Jesse Mack, Mitchel Clark, Bailey Lonsberry, Preston Hutt and Cole Piche.
The season still is not over for two members of the Haulers. Perkins and Gingras have been named to this year's Saskatchewan Baseball 15-and-under development team.
The team is designed to help the provincial body scout young players who could represent Saskatchewan in the Canada Cup and other tournaments when they are older.
Perkins and Gingras will play with Team Saskatchewan at a selects tournament in Winnipeg on the Labour Day weekend against teams from Alberta and Manitoba.
Gingras batted at about .500 this year and had an on-base percentage around .700.
Perkins accomplished the rare feat of making the team as a first-year bantam.
"As a first year, to make that team is almost impossible," Phillips said.
Meanwhile, Phillips plans to mull over his future and decide whether he will return as EMB president and as a coach next summer.
"I'm going to sit down over the winter and my wife and I will have a chat and see what my role with Estevan Minor Baseball will be next year, if anything."