After an anxious wait, the Virden Oilers are set to take the field.
The senior baseball team will play an exhibition game against host Rivers on Sunday. The Oilers open their South West Baseball League season on July 3 when the Wawanesa Brewers visit. On the same day their nearby rivals, the Elkhorn Expos, start their regular season by hosting the Reston Rockets.
Last year the league, which consists of 10 teams this season, got underway on May 21. This year the COVID-19 pandemic kept the SWBL and sports in general off the fields.
“The biggest thing with looking forward to the season is being able to play and see all the guys again,” said Oiler Des Koop, who co-manages the team with Brett Braybrook. “Many of us hadn't seen each other in a long time due to COVID. Normally we start using the indoor cage at TC 365 in late March and this year that wasn't an option.”
On Monday, Koop said, “I feel like the strength of our team is going to be our defence and pitching. From the couple practices we have had I feel very confident in that as good as our defence is, we won't have to rely on offence as heavily.”
During the 2019 regular season, the Oilers finished fourth in the SWBL North Division with a 7-8 record. The Virden nine came on strong in the playoffs and knocked off the Hamiota Red Sox, the division’s top seed, in the first round. They bowed out in the next round to the Oak River Dodgers, who went on to win the SWBL crown.
The Oilers return many players from last season’s squad. A few of the key returners are Jeff Peel, who led the league with a .514 batting average and paced the Oilers in pitching wins; pitcher Curtis Plett, who was injured much of last season; catcher Brady Potter; Tanner Lewis; and Riley Hole.
The team loses Tristen Cross, Derek Cross, and Austin Brereton. A trio of reinforcements are arriving from the SWBL’s Souris Cardinals in Virden products Keifer Johnston, Toby Troughton and Tyler Campbell. Dreyson Potter joins the club as a 16-year-old rookie.
The Oilers are also excited to add Clark Whelpton, a utility player and strong hitter. Hailing from Brandon, Whelpton has experience playing on the Team Manitoba youth squad, the Brandon Junior Marlins, the Brandon-based senior Cardinals and professional baseball in Australia.
“He had a lot of success in the Brandon Senior League, which I expect to continue in Virden,” Koop said.