The Dawgs now move on to the WCBL championship series against the Regina Red Sox, while the Bulls were left to clean out the locker room Thursday. Many of their roster players are already out of the city and back at their respective colleges for the school year.
The Bulls were second in the west in the regular season, with a 31-25 record, landing them home field advantage in their first-round meeting with the Medicine Hat Mavericks.
The Bulls completed the redemptive series win — after the Mavs eliminated them in the first round in 2018 — in front of a home crowd in Game 3, moving on to face the west-leading Dawgs in the second round.
Okotoks won 40 of their 65 regular season games and downed the Edmonton Prospects in the opening round of the playoffs, before winning Game 1 against the Bulls in dramatic fashion, with a walk-off 6-5 victory.
“That one was tough,” said Bulls catcher Jaret Semeniuk. “Taking a one-run lead going into the ninth inning and then unfortunately having two errors and they found a way to get a winning hit.
“It was a battle, and we knew it was going to be a tough series going into it,” said Bulls head coach Jesse Sawyer.
“I think we might have even surprised ourselves a little bit,” Sawyer said. “We came out in Game 1 and found ourselves in the lead late, and then a couple of mistakes.”
After a disappointing series-opening game, the Bulls bounced back with a 5-1 win to force a deciding Game 3 on Tuesday.
WATCH: Aug 12, 2019: It was do-or-die Game 2 for the Lethbridge Bulls in Tuesday’s WCBL West Division Finals against the Okotoks Dawgs. Danica Ferris has the highlights.
While the Bulls made a mid-game charge — tying the game at 3-3 after the Dawgs took an early 3-0 lead — they weren’t able to complete the comeback.
“Obviously it’s super disappointing,” said third baseman Torrin Vaselenak. “But it was a good series, super close games for the most part.
“The first game is kind of what hurt the most after we won the second one, but that’s how it goes.”
After falling behind early, Sawyer was proud of his playing clawing their way back into the game.
“Three runs early, we could have said ‘season’s kind of over,’ but we battled,” said Sawyer. “We just couldn’t get that last run to tie it back up, but we went down fighting. A couple of things go our way and we’re having a different interview right now.”
WATCH: Aug 13, 2019: The Okotoks Dawgs move onto the 2019 WCBL Championship series after beating the Lethbridge Bulls 4-3 in Tuesday’s decisive Game 3. Danica Ferris has the highlights.
For Sawyer, the silver lining on the season might have been defeating Medicine Hat in the first round; his first playoff victory against the Mavericks as a coach.
“They had beat us three years in a row, and it was one of my big goals,” said Sawyer. “We couldn’t lose to Med Hat again.
“They are one of our biggest rivals and we’ve played them real tough. Last year they were one of the top teams that I’ve seen in my years in this league, and this year we were able to get them. So it was definitely a nice feeling to be able to get them in the first round,” he said.
For the head coach, now there’s just a couple of weeks off before planning for summer 2020 begins.
“It’s a year away, but you’ve got to start the recruiting for next summer,” he said. “It’s a year-long grind.”
On Thursday, Sawyer said he will be looking for a couple of key pieces to add to what should be a roster comprised of mostly returning players.
“It was a really good group this year, and I think we only lose two or three guys — if they’re seniors — if they want to come back,” said Sawyer.
Vaselenak and Semeniuk both plan to return for their second and third seasons as Bulls, respectively.
“We had a tight group of guys this year,” said Semeniuk. “[We were] a lot closer than last year, and we really bonded more and connected as a team.”