Express open with character win

Matthew Gourlie
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It has only been one game, but the Moose Jaw Miller Express look like they have been moulded in the image of their head coach.

Terry McNabb from the Moose Jaw Miller Express pitches in the team's WMBL season opener Friday.

The Express showed grit, resiliency and a fair bit of talent in a 9-4 win over the Saskatoon Yellow Jackets.

"Grit and sandpaper. That's one of the things I always ask coaches 'what is he going to be like?' I want the guys that are going to bend, but not break and we have a lot of those guys," said Express head coach Michael Hunt. "It's been a great vibe from day 1. We have a lot of 'yes sir' and 'no sir' kind of guys. That might change as the season goes on, but it certainly feels good right now."

Express starter Terry McNabb allowed only one earned run on a wild pitch and the Express bats gave him plenty of support in their Western Major Baseball League opener in front of 387 fans at Ross Wells Park. The Express will host the defending WMBL champions from Melville tonight (7 p.m., Ross Wells Park).

In the second inning catcher Andrew Soloman slid hard into second base to break up a double play. That allowed Miles Hunter to score from third base and extend the Express lead to 2-0.

"We have a lot of like-minded programs and I love that stuff: the slides to break things up. It could be the difference in a run crossing the plate or not," said Hunt.

Soloman, who attends the University of San Diego, missed his freshman season with a broken hand. His enthusiasm to get back on the diamond was evident.

"I was playing hard and went right into him," said Soloman who was 2-for-4 at the plate with two-run double and a run scored. "That was my first real game in awhile, so I was pretty excited.

"I'm excited. It's summer ball so everyone wants to have fun, but everyone wants to win too."

McNabb tested Soloman's hand by throwing hard and pounding the strike zone. He struck out 10 batters and didn't walk any Yellow Jackets. The Davidson product allowed seven hits over his eight innings of work.

"Overall I feel like it went well. There were a few glitches here and there, but I think that's to be expected in the first game," said McNabb.

In the fourth inning, the Jackets loaded the bases with three straight singles and then Court Iorg reached on an error by Aiden Stinnett as Saskatoon cashed in three unearned runs to take a 3-2 lead.

"I know his numbers didn't look all that great at school this year, but we know what Terry can give us and we know what he's going to provide every time he takes the hill," said Hunt. "He's not going to push the panic button or start chewing guys out and get all upset. He's a lead-by-example guy. Mistakes are going to happen, we just hope we can minimize them moving forward."

The Express trailed 4-3 in the fifth when Stinnett tied the game with an RBI double and he put them ahead when he scored on an error by Iorg. That would be the first of three straight innings that saw the Express score twice as they built their 9-4 lead.

"Coming back and getting a few more runs was huge. We stuck with it and were able to get nine runs. Whenever you can get a five-run lead that closes the door a little bit," said McNabb.

The crowd was enjoying a perfect night at the park and they helped the home side. Jackets pitcher Jake Hein actually started laughing on the mound when a heckler from the crowd compared his hair to Billy Ray Cyrus. Hein wasn't laughing when he got pulled from the game with 'Achy Breaky Heart' playing over the loud speakers after he gave up two runs.

Josh Janzen came in to close out the game in the ninth inning for Moose Jaw. He allowed one hit and struck out one to end the game.

Ben Douglas was 2-for-4 and drove in a run in his return to the Express. Miles Hunter was 2-for-4 and scored twice, while fellow veteran Austin Russell scored three runs. Dylan Hanson drove in a pair of runs for Moose Jaw.

The Express earned five walks and were hit by a pitch five times.

"We saw a lot of good swings and a lot of good approaches," said Hunt.

Most of the Express players arrived in Moose Jaw at the start of the week and the first game of the season was hardly a masterpiece. The Express committed three errors and the Jackets had five.

Jackets starter Ross Mortenson walked three batters and gave up four hits and three runs in four innings of work. Dalton England took the loss after allowing four runs and three hits in 1 2/3 innings. The Jackets used five pitchers.

Landon Briscoe was 3-for-4 at the plate for Saskatoon.

Organizations: Western Major Baseball League, University of San Diego

Geographic location: Ross Wells Park, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw

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