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Moose Jaw Miller Express set to open season tonight in Weyburn, home opener Saturday

Moose Jaw to host Medicine Hat for pair of games Saturday and Sunday at Ross Wells Park

MOOSEJAWTODAY.COM -- The Moose Jaw Miller Express are in town and ready to go for another Western Canadian Baseball League season. 

And it’s once again a campaign with a theme of unfinished business.

After taking the Okotoks Dawgs to three games in the WCBL Final in 2022, the Express were unable to return to the championship series after falling to Medicine Hat in three games in the East Division final in 2023.

Now, head coach Eric Marriott and his crew are looking to finally take that next step and really turn Moose Jaw into a city of champions.

“It’s time to get going and we’re really looking forward to it,” Marriott said during a brief break from practice on Thursday afternoon at Ross Wells Park. “We have 13 returnees this year, guys that we can sort of lean on to induce that winning culture not just from us but from an organization standpoint, and 13 returnees means we did something right last year.

“We want to bring a championship to Moose Jaw and hopefully we have the right group here.”

The Millers will be a touch shorthanded to start the season thanks to a handful of players still being on the field with their college teams. While not an ideal situation in the quick-hitting WCBL campaign, other teams are in the same boat, and when players do arrive they’ll be bringing a winning pedigree.

“The good thing is they’re playing winning baseball, and hopefully that translates into our season, where high-pressure situations won’t bother them,” Marriott said. “If they’re playing now, that means that they come from a good organization and they expect to come here and see the same thing as well.”

It all begins Friday night, as the Miller Express are in Weyburn to take on the Beavers. Moose Jaw is coming off an outstanding regular season in 2023 that saw the Express post a 38-18 record, tops in the East Division and second-best across the WCBL. Weyburn finished last in the East with a 14-42 record.

The Express will then host Medicine Hat in their home opener on Saturday and again on Sunday at Ross Wells Park. The Mavericks chased Moose Jaw much of the season in 2023 before finishing with a 30-26 mark and eventually getting hot in the playoffs, where they also took Okotoks to three before falling short.

Almost the entire starting infield will be back in Moose Jaw once things get going full steam, with catcher Wyatt Tweet joined by veterans Luke LaChance, Austin Gurney, Thomas Soto and Nathan Houston.

Former team MVP and perennial crowd favourite Nate Mensik will be again joined by Doane University teammate Joe Osborn in the outfield, giving Moose Jaw a lethal one-two punch in the middle of the line-up.

The pitching staff will be led by third-year veteran Ethan Merk and fellow returnee Matt Vasquez, while Julian Gonzalez will anchor the bullpen.

That so many players are more than willing to return to help the Miller Express win is a definite positive -- as are their efforts to recruit top talent from their respective schools.

“We had over 150 players reach out and want to play for us this summer, and the 30 we selected, we think they’re the right group this year,” Marriott said. “Honestly (veterans) are our best recruiters. They go back to school after summer and tell everyone how much fun they had, how they got better as a ball player and how they fell in love with their host family and the city. For some of these guys, this is their second home.

“Teams also want to send their players to a team that wins and the last two seasons we’ve done that,” Marriott added. “So if we can make them better on and off the field, that’s the goal.”

Newcomer Bo Jacob Garza will get the start in the season opener against Weyburn, with the Lubbock, Tex. product having played for NAIA Ottawa, Kan, University this spring.

Merk will then get the start in the home opener, with the Regina product coming off a solid season at Doane.

“He deserves it,” Marriott said. “He’s everything we need from a Miller the last three years, he went from an AP player to earning a roster spot and had the most wins in the league last year, so he’s certainly earned it.”

The weekend will then wrap up with Declan O’Hare getting the start, with the Los Angeles product having suited up for NCAA Division III Central College in Iowa this spring.

The 56-game season will run until Monday, Aug. 5, followed by the rapid-fire playoffs over the next two weeks.

Be sure to keep an eye on www.wcblbaseball,com for all the scores and stats from the campaign.