Sean Heppner is right-hand pitcher headed for his second season with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. He is currently playing for the Kamloops NorthPaws, a team playing its inaugural season in the West Coast League.
Bob Broughton, courtesyrunner.com: The British Columbia Thunderbirds made a remarkable turnaround during the last five weeks of the 2022 season, getting four quality wins at the Opening Round Tournament at Lewis-Clark State, and giving Lewis-Clark State, who eventually finished in second place nationally in the NAIA, a real scare. What explanation do you have for the turnaround?
Sean Heppner, Kamloops NorthPaws: We were a really young team. I think over half our team had never played a college baseball game before.
BB: That includes you?
SH: Yeah, including myself. So, just getting to know yourself, as you play the season, you get more comfortable and know which situations you're going to go into and getting the experience. Then, it just kind of all came together and we all kind of felt comfortable pitching and hitting and doing what we needed to to play. And we were having so much fun, which we weren't having for a long time.
BB: How many of those guys are going to be back next year?
SH: We actually only lost three guys.
BB: And you're coming back?
LF Jared Sucro (Cairn), a Kamloops native, hit an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to give the Kamloops NorthPaws an 8-7 win over the Edmonton Riverhawks in the first-ever game for both West Coast League teams.
SS Mike Fitzsimmons (British Columbia) led off the bottom of the ninth with a single, then stole second base. CF Ty Siffermann (Grand Canyon) struck out. Fitzsimmons moved to third on a passed ball, then scored on the hit by Sucro.
Nolan Austin (Northeastern Oklahoma A&M) had a big night for the NorthPaws. He moved from third base to the mound at the start of the eighth inning, replacing another pitcher who was ruled ineligible because he wasn’t listed on the official roster. He got the win, retired six of the seven batters he faced, struck out one, and walked one. He also went 3-for-4 with a double and a walk at the plate.
Another NorthPaw with a big night was Tyrelle Chadwick (Illinois State). He was the starting pitcher. He was relieved after only 2 1/3 innings. He allowed only one hit, but walked six batters, and threw a wild pitch. However, he remained in the game as the designated hitter, then replaced Austin at third base. He finished 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI.
The NorthPaws outhit the Riverhawks 11 to five, but the Riverhawks led most of the game, due not only to the large number of walks (relievers RHP Sean Heppner [British Columbia] and RHP Carter Harbut [Fraser Valley] walked three and four, respectively), but also an expensive error and a passed ball. The Riverhawks took the early lead on a home run by 3B Brad Jolley (Park-Gilbert) in the top of the second, the first-ever home run for the Riverhawks. The NorthPaws answered with two runs in the bottom of the second, with Chadwick scoring when 2B Angus Stayte (Morehead State) reached on an error, and Austin scoring on a passed ball.