U of British Columbia visits France

From Guest Bob Broughton of Tbirdbaseball.net

The U. of British Columbia Thunderbirds, wearing jerseys that say “Team Canada” on them, won four of six games against the French Senior National Team in the last week of August in Clermont-Ferrand, France.

This was a good result against a French team that has some hope of qualifying for the 2008 Olympics in a tournament in Barcelona next month. However, the most pleasant surprise for the Thunderbirds was the performance of RHP Taylor King, a transfer from Pierce College in the Los Angeles area. In his very first start for the Thunderbirds against the French, he pitched six shutout innings. (His second start, in the final game of the series, was less successful; he was chased after giving up four runs in three innings.)

King potentially fills a major hole in the UBC pitching staff, and there’s a history behind it. The Thunderbirds made their first and only appearance in the NAIA National Championship Tournament in Lewiston, ID in 2006, and finished fourth with a 2-2 record. Although most of that team graduated, UBC had plenty of reasons to expect continued future success. Their two best starters were returning, and they had a very good recruiting year.

Problem was, one of those starters, Shawn Schaefer, became an unexpected academic casualty at the end of the fall semester. Brendan Rolfe, a senior who had been used mostly as a reliever, did an admirable job of taking Schaefer’s place. The Thunderbirds won two of four against Lewis-Clark State, who eventually won the NAIA championship and had eight players drafted, and one more signed as a free agent. However, an embarassing late-season fade and an two-and-barbecue result in the Region I tournament left the Birds with a record of 21-20 for 2007, and they didn’t have a player drafted for the first time since 2000.

UBC had what appeared to be an excellent recruiting year, but it turned out to be too good. One of the signees, RHP Mitch Hodge, was drafted in the fourth round. He had been projected to go in the twelth round, and he wasted no time in signing with the Royals. Another signee, outfielder Cody Phipps, was drafted by the Astros, and he turned pro, too.

So, UBC Head Coach Terry McKaig got on the phone, and landed Taylor King, who was playing for the BC Ballers of the Pacific International League. (One of his teammates with the Ballers was the aforementioned Shawn Schaefer.) King had already been approached by Lewis-Clark State and Cumberland, another NAIA power, but he had been hoping to hear from McKaig.

King’s collegiate career started at Cal State-Northridge, but arm trouble and surgery landed him at Pierce College, where he did well. During the summer, he also pitched for the Nanaimo Coal Miners. They won the Western Canada championship, and one of his teammates was UBC sophomore Mark Hardy, who was the starter for both of those wins against Lewis-Clark State, and also did very well in France. Hardy allowed only one run in 10 1/3 innings of work.

The Thunderbirds will start the 2008 season on February 14, at NAIA Fresno Pacific. They have been doing a February California tour for several years. In the past, they have been able to schedule several Division I teams. They couldn’t do this in 2008 because of the new rule that prohibits D-I teams from playing prior to February 22. Instead, the Thunderbirds will play a mixture of NAIA and Division III teams.

A complete video of the fifth game, in Windows Media Player format, is available here.