“We’ve been labelled that the last two years and it’s worked just fine for us,” Bearcats pitcher John Chapman said on Wednesday.
The Sooners are a heavy favourite in the best-of-five series, which begins Friday in Truro at the TAAC Grounds at 7 p.m.
The Sooners finished first in the regular season with a 19-8 record and won six of seven games against the Bearcats (9-19, fourth place) this summer.
It’s a familiar spot for the Bearcats. In 2015, they finished fourth but defeated the first-place Sooners in a semifinal series. Last year, Truro was again the fourth seed, but disposed of the Kentville Wildcats in the first round.
The Bearcats had an awful start to their season, losing their first 13 games. However, they won nine of 15 to close out the regular campaign and edge out the Wildcats for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Sooners coach Jim (Rico) McEachern isn’t taking the Bearcats lightly.
“It’s an entirely new season,” the Sooners’ long-time field boss said. “Our first place wins don’t mean too much now.
“Truro has played us as tough as anybody this year so I look for a very competitive and close series. Even those games we won six of seven, for the most part, those games were close. When they are going, Truro can have as good as any offensive team out there. In a short series, anything can happen.”
The Bearcats will also host Game 2 at the TAAC Grounds Saturday at 2 p.m. before the series switches to Sydney.
Game 3 will be held Friday, Sept. 15 at Susan McEachern Memorial Field. If Games 4 and 5 are needed, they will be played as a doubleheader in Sydney on Sept. 16.
“Everybody starts the new season now,” said Chapman, who will pitch the opener for Truro. “The real season’s here and we have as good a chance as they do to win and it’s going to be a battle right to the end.”
The Bearcats have been led this season by the veteran trio of Jeff Chisholm, Darson Murphy and Chapman.
Chisholm batted .289 with 19 runs, Murphy led the league in hits with 36 and Chapman was a jack of all trades for Truro.
He batted .359 with 15 stolen bases and led the league in innings pitched (75), tied for the lead in wins (five) and finished top five in ERA (2.64) and strikeouts (53).
The Sooners will be pitching to them carefully.
“The key is to try and not get any of their batters going collectively,” McEachern said. “We can’t take them lightly. We need to try to limit their hits together and get ourselves going offensively.”
The Sooners were led by Cory Christie, who led the league with a .426 batting average, and Jordon Shepherd, who knocked in a league-high 32 runs and tied teammate Devon Mahoney with an NSSBL-best five home runs.
Sydney, however, will be without the services of Mahoney, who batted .380, tied for the league lead in runs scored (23) and was a force on the mound with a sparkling 0.17 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 53 innings pitch.
The 22-year-old California import left the team earlier than expected to pursue a semi-professional career in Australia.
The other NSSBL semifinal will be played between the Dartmouth Moosehead Dry and the Halifax Pelham Molson Canadians.