Solid season, positive future for Express

Randy Palmer/Times-Herald Pate Katechis celebrates a home run with his Miller Express teammates earlier this season.

The Moose Jaw Miller Express took a major step in the right direction this past season in the Western Major Baseball League.

After a season that saw a stretch where they were one of the most dominant teams in the league, the Express finished the regular season with a 23-25 record and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Even though they were eliminated in four games by the Swift Current 57s in the Eastern Conference semifinal, the strides the Express made compared to seasons past were especially positive.

“We didn’t get swept by anybody, we beat every team in the league and we had a lot of A-plus games,” said Express coach Michael Hunt. “We made the playoffs and made it a series and it’s the kind of year we can build on.”

The Express put together a nine-game winning streak at the end of June, a run that saw them briefly tied for first place in the division. Unfortunately, things wouldn’t remain that consistently high into the new month, and while they were never in danger of not reaching the post-season, the up-and-down nature of the campaign wasn’t ideal.

“When we were good, we were really good and when we weren’t so good, we really weren’t so good. There wasn’t a whole lot in the middle,” Hunt said. “We went through some growing pains early and really found out stride at the end of June, kind of lost it a bit and then picked it back up at the end of July.”

Express rookie Ben Dalke emerged as one of the brightest newcomers on the team — the Castle Rock, Colo. product got off to a torrid start and was among the league leaders in almost every offensive category in the early part of the season.

He finished the year with a team-leading .331 average, including 13 doubles, seven home runs and 44 runs batted in. Considering he was coming off missing a full season after an ACL injury, the season went as well as he could have hoped.

“It was fun, it was a great experience meeting the seniors that are up here and I’m going to miss them a little bit,” Dalke said. “You don’t want it to end ever, but then it does. I was just fortunate to be able to come back like I did.”

Like the majority of their their line-up, Dalke is unsure if he’ll return to Moose Jaw next summer. With a full season of college baseball and opportunities that might present themselves afterwards, most players are taking a wait and see approach.

“That’s always the hard part,” Hunt said of potential returning veterans. “These guys come from a long ways away and life happens sometimes and guys are getting internships or there’s schooling or family. So the goal is to get back as many as we can every year, and we have a handful. Hopefully we can bring more back this season.”