Cowan's 400th IBL Hit Highlights Big First Inning in Baycats Win
MIDHURST - Jeff Cowan wasted absolutely no time.
In his first at-bat against the Hamilton Cardinals tonight, Cowan hit an RBI single to centre field, securing his 400th Intercounty Baseball League hit. The run that crossed the plate represented the fifth run of the inning, and that would be all the Barrie Baycats needed to take Saturday's game against the Hamilton Cardinals; the final score was 11-2.
It was easy to think Cowan would be eager to get that hit, of course. The 34-year-old was back in the batting order after a couple of road games off, and he was set to bat eighth. The first inning didn't seem to be the likeliest time for his first at-bat.
His teammates had something to say about that. The red-hot top of the batting order continued what they've been doing well all season - centre fielder Jake Wilson, left fielder Noel McGarry-Doyle, and designated hitter Ryan Rijo all reached base to open Barrie's side of the first. After that, catcher Marcel Lacasse also reached base after being hit with a pitch from Hamilton Cardinals starter Chris Lazar.
With the bases still loaded, right fielder David LeBlanc hit a ball that Hamilton shortstop Tristan Osika couldn't handle, and McGarry-Doyle crossed the plate. A flyout later, second baseman Owen Jansen singled, scoring Rijo and Lacasse.
Suddenly, the score was 4-0, and Cowan was headed to the plate. The fans at Coates Stadium cheered as the ball smacked off of Cowan's bat, right through the middle of the diamond into centre field. LeBlanc had scored, Jansen had advanced to second base, and number 400 for Cowan was official. Now that the milestone had passed, the next question was up - were there nerves leading up to that at-bat?
"Absolutely," he laughed after the game. "The other night I had my family here, and it didn’t happen, probably a little bit of pressing on my part, a little pressure, so tonight, you know, they were back here, but I just said to just relax, and just see the pitch, try and pick up the pitch as early as possible and put a good swing on it; after that we can’t control it."
The approach worked wonders: he wasn't done with the one hit, finishing the night 5-for-5 with an RBI on the way to being named Player of the Game. To say that Baycats manager Josh Matlow was impressed postgame would be an understatement.
"Jeff Cowan, not only with his 400 hits; five hits [on the day]? I don’t know the last time I’ve seen that. Guys are firing on all cylinders and I’m really happy that everyone put it together. I not only feel great for him, but you've got to remember that I played with him back in the day, and to see him still doing it and to have milestones, and to be here for that, it was pretty magical.”
Cowan's played for the Baycats since the summer of 2006. He was an important part of the team for each of the Baycats championship titles in the mid-2010s, and he's now playing a different, but still steady and consistent role with a largely new team core in 2021. Postgame, Cowan was visibly appreciative of the fans watching the milestone unfold, describing it as "wonderful."
"It’s that little icing on the cake where you get it at home, in front of your home fans, they’re a great group and they were very supportive when it happened.”
THE NON-JEFF COWAN STORIES FROM THE GAME...
Left-hander Andrew Grieder made his Baycats debut in the game, and made a positive first impression. He pitched 5-and-two-thirds, giving up only two runs - more than enough on a night where the offense was rolling. He'll look to limit baserunners more in his next start after walking five and giving up seven hits, but he struck out six and overcame the rallies Hamilton threatened with. It was solid, and it earned him the win.
The only hitter that Grieder (and subsequently, reliever Evan Soules) had major trouble with was Justin Gideon; he ended the game with four hits, a walk, and a run on the night for Hamilton. Max Lojko entered in the ninth and shut the door to secure the team's win.
"I think we needed that," said Matlow on Grieder's performance. "We needed that from anyone else other than Juan [Benitez], to be honest with you, he came in, he got it done; a little high [on the] pitch count - he was averaging about 20 pitches an inning. I was hoping for less and more efficiency, but we’ll work on that - but we needed that, he came in at the right time. We’ve got Juan on Tuesday, so this is our time to start rolling.”
To support the pitching, every member of the Baycats reached base at least once against Hamilton pitchers Chris Lazar, Rashil Bhat, and Gabe Braun. After Barrie's five-run first (in which all nine members of the lineup got to the plate), the team added another in the seventh and three more in the eighth, finishing the game with 18 hits.
HAMILTON - 2-8-2
BARRIE - 11-18-2
BIGGEST PLAY OF THE GAME...
Because it's obvious in this one, it's a good time to generally highlight just how brilliant the top of the batting order has been for Matlow and the Baycats this season. They've found a really strong formula with Jake Wilson, Noel McGarry-Doyle, and Ryan Rijo as the top three. In terms of on-base percentage, Wilson (.453) and McGarry-Doyle (.448) were second and third on the team (behind only Marcel Lacasse, who's also been excellent), and Rijo led the team with a .574 slugging percentage and a 1.010 OPS (on base plus slugging) coming into tonight's game.
It's as strong a top-of-the-order setup as any team in the league has.
BY THE NUMBERS...
.400. Across 30 at-bats, Jeff Cowan has now raised his batting average up to .400, and his OBP up to .514 across 37 plate appearances.
3. David LeBlanc had three hits tonight, which gives him seven in his last three games. He's really fitting into the middle of the order well of late, and his aggressive approach on the basepaths has been a plus as well.
5. London beat Brantford in the other game across the IBL tonight, meaning London's now improved to 10-3, and Brantford falls further behind Barrie at 4-10. Barrie's currently five games back of the league lead, with a record of 6-9.
The Baycats are off until Tuesday, August 10th, where they'll stay at Coates Stadium to take on the Welland Jackfish. Matlow has named Juan Benitez (3-0, 2.42 ERA) as the starter for that game. Barrie is 0-2 so far this year against the Jackfish.
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Interviews: Sam Hossack
Photo: Bob Hurley/Bob Hurley Photography