The Roswell Invaders have made fast friends in an alien land at the Ramada World Baseball Challenge.
The visitors from New Mexico, in their first trip to Prince George, have become fan favourites at Citizen Field and a hot commodity, having exhausted their supply of Ros dolls, their green extraterrestrial mascot.
The Invaders have been hitting the cover off the ball and kept up their torrid pace Wednesday night in a mercy-rule shortened seven-inning 12-2 win over the Kamloops Sun Devils.
Cody Bishop triggered a six-run eruption in the third inning with a two-run home run which gave the Invaders an 8-2 lead and they never looked back, improving to 4-1 in the five-team tournament.
Roswell’s big inning started with a throwing error to Kamloops third basemen Brennan Hegel, which got Brett Balkan aboard. Morgan Blatnik followed up with a hit up the gut for an RBI single, setting the stage for Bishop. He belted his third home run of the tournament and now leads his team with a .474 batting average with nine hits and six RBI through five games.
Kamloops pitcher Austin Penner walked three to load the bases and walked Jim Smith in for the sixth run. With the bases loaded again, Balkan singled to centrefield to bring in two more runs. Penner lasted through the fifth inning, replaced by Josh Snider, who pitched his way out of a jam with runners at first and second and nobody out in the sixth.
“We’ve really gelled well as a team, the new additions have stepped up for us and we continue to have good at-bats,” said Roswell manager Bryan Kloppe. “Twelve guys from our team couldn’t make it here, so we picked up some others (from around the Pecos League) to fill in the gaps.”
Alex Dandridge gave the Invaders five solid innings, allowing just five hits and two earned runs before the 22-year-old from Dallas, Texas handed the ball to lefthander Nick Bozman. The Sun Devils had the bases loaded on Bozman but the Huntsville, Ohio native got Doug Clark swinging for his second strikeout to end the threat.
What started as a warm evening cooled off in a hurry under a full moon and the heavy air probably favoured the pitchers.
“My defence picked me up - I struggled early but settled in and we got the ‘W’ tonight so we’re looking good going into game six now,” said Dandridge.
“The cool air probably saved me on a couple balls that were pretty deep. I think from here on out, we’re going to hit some bombs. Around the third inning it got pretty chilly. It was a long inning and we scored six runs and I ran down to the bullpen and was playing catch. I’m happy with it, that was my first start of the summer.”
Dandridge, a relief pitcher all season for the Invaders in their run to the Pecos League championship, starting noticing the Prince George fans showing their support in the Invaders’ third game, a 10-2 win over Canada Sidearm Nation of Calgary.
“We started hearing people scream for our team,” said Dandridge.” We hit home runs and they were asking if they could have our blowup alien mascot. They want gear and we should have come reared to give these guys some gear. It’s a lot of fun.”
The Invaders put up four more runs in the top of the seventh. Cody Coffman’s high fly to shallow rightfield close to foul territory resulted in a convergence of three Kamloops fielders. None of them were able to pick the ball out of the night sky and with two out, Nate Ferrell and Balkan were coming in at full steam and scored easily. Facing another bases-loaded situation, Bobby Webb doubled in Joey Miller and Cody Coffman to cap the scoring.
The Sun Devils (0-5) had numerous chances to break out their offence with runners in scoring position but were unable to get that timely hit, a problem that’s plagued them throughout the tournament. The best game so far for Kamloops was an opening 8-7 loss to Roswell on Saturday.
“It’s frustrating when you don’t capitalize with the bases loaded or runners on the bases, it’s tough,” said Kamloops leftfielder Brandon Hunter.
Kamloops returns to the field Thursday at 8 p.m. to face Japan (4-0). Japan beat them 11-1 on Monday and Hunter can’t wait to have another crack at the tournament leading Japanese.
“I’d love to see them again, I just missed a few of their pitches and I want redemption,” said Hunter, 32, now in his fourth WBC. “They’re so skilled and you can see they practice and practice. I’m glad I get to see them again in what will be my last WBC tournament.”
The afternoon game today at 4 p.m. pits Thurston County Senators of Olympia, Wash., against Canada Sidearm Nation of Calgary.
The Sun Devils will be without second baseman Doug Clark and catcher Cole Laviolette, as well as coach Jay Cook, for the rest of the tournament. They’ll travel today to Cold Lake, Alta., for the Western Canadian Senior Baseball Championship, which starts Friday.