If the Virden Oilers are having success on the diamond, chances are Jeff Peel is involved somehow.
The hometown product is the ace of the South West Baseball League squad’s pitching staff this season. He also plays third base and some shortstop. Peel is a key batter and base stealer for the Oilers.
“He is the straw the stirs the drink,” said Brett Braybrook, Virden’s player/co-manager. “When Jeff goes, the whole team goes. We feed off of his intensity and passion for the game.”
Last week Virden won 6-1 over Deloraine on Monday and fell 5-0 to Rivers on Wednesday. This week the Oilers were looking for strong performances from Peel and themselves as they are battling for a playoff spot in the final week of the regular season. As of Sunday, Virden sat tied for fourth in the SWBL North Division with Reston with a 5-7 record. The Elkhorn Expos lurked close behind at 5-8. The top four teams in the division make the playoffs. However, if the North’s fifth-place team has a better record than the fourth-place squad in the South Division, that North team will have a one-game playoff with the South team. A crossover game is possible as the Hartney Hoppers sat fourth in the South with a 4-9 record.
Virden has a busy final week of the regular season with three home games. They host Elkhorn on Wednesday, Oak River on Thursday, and Hamiota on Friday.
As of Sunday, Peel leads the Oilers regulars with a .500 batting average. He is tied with Brandon Lockerby for the team lead with seven runs batted in. Peel paces the team with eight stolen bases and 11 walks.
“He bats third in our line up and is very effective both at the plate and on the base paths. He takes a veteran approach at the plate and will always put the ball in play,” said Braybrook, who noted that Peel will do whatever it takes to get on base.
On the mound, Peel leads the Oilers in innings pitched (34.32), strikeouts (45), and earned run average (1.63). He has a team-high three wins and also one save. Virden pitcher/co-manager Des Koop said that Peel is an effective pitcher due to his fierce competitiveness and desire to win.
“Whether it’s a big game or not, he wants to be on the mound and wants to win,” Koop said. “He also has excellent control of all of his pitches and walks very few batters and when a guy can do that good things happen.”
Braybrook, a father of two, said that Peel “is a class act and has been nothing but spectacular for us. He is also a huge influence in my two boys’ lives and I thank him for that.”
For Peel, there is a lot to love about playing baseball in his hometown.
“The main thing I love is getting to play with a great group of guys,” he said. “Everyone gets along so well. It makes coming to the ballpark a lot of fun. Getting to play with your childhood heroes like Des Koop and Brett Braybrook is a bonus as well as mentoring the young guys on the team like Braeden Lewis and Mat Strain.
“Also, I enjoy seeing all of the fans at the park. It’s nice to bring the community together and senior sports can help do that. Lastly, I enjoy the competiveness of the sport. Nothing beats being on a ball field on a hot day competing to the best of your ability.”
With a pair of wins last week, the Elkhorn Expos were riding a four-game winning streak as of Monday. The red-hot club opened this week battling for a playoff spot with a 5-8 record.
On June 25, Colby Walker delivered a two-out single in the bottom of the seventh to propel the Expos to a 4-3 win at home over Rivers. On the mound, Shawn Bowles earned the win for the Expos. He went seven innings and allowed two earned runs on five hits.
Two nights later the Expos won their fourth-straight by using a four-run third inning to down the visiting Boissevain Centennials, 6-1. Josh Martin, who had a home run, and Walker each drove in two runs. Elkhorn pitcher Bradley Bowles scattered four hits over seven innings to earn the win.
The Expos’ winning streak fizzled out as they closed the regular season this week with two losses on the road, first against Oak River on Tuesday (falling 8-4 to the Dodgers) and then in Virden on Wednesday (losing 6-4 to the Oilers).