After a drizzly stretch of rain that postponed practices and delayed a game against Mission Valley, the Kalispell Lakers hit the field a week ago. The result showcased the excitement and enthusiasm of this year’s Lake Show.
The Lakers AA club battered the Mariners, a Class A squad that is typically one of the best in the state, and walked away with a 21-0 nonconference victory.
The dominating win put Kalispell at 4-1 overall for the season and showcased the team’s well-rounded talent in the batter’s box and on the pitcher’s mound.
Dawson Smith, a 17-year-old third baseman and pitcher, knocked in six RBI. Ryan Symmes, a 17-year-old outfielder, Spencer Pisk, an 18-year-old outfielder and pitcher, and Torin Bowden, an 18-year-old first baseman and pitcher, each had three RBI.
Bowden, Jonas Nyman and starter Drew Scherrer limited Mission Valley to just three hits.
“I would say there’s a definite belief among the kids in what they’re doing this season,” head coach Ryan Malmin said.
Malmin, last year’s Montana Legion Coach of the Year, has had his fair share of talented clubs, especially a year ago. Last summer’s Lakers shined bright, going 42-21 overall and finishing second, the best finish for the local legion club since 1978.
That success has acted as a springboard for this year’s team, which trained hard in the offseason and arrived at practice with a noticeable energy. Nearly 60 kids tried out for the legion program, which this year expanded with a B squad to complement the AA and A teams. Most programs across the state have added B teams as a way to help train players early and prepare them for the higher ranks. It also adds opportunities to play legion ball at a younger age.
“Our overall goal is to develop those younger kids so they’re ready for AA legion baseball when they get there,” Malmin said. “And that just comes from the opportunity to practice every day, consistently, and get those 45 games under their belt.”
The second wettest April on record in Kalispell stymied the team’s spring progress, but now that the weather is clearing up, Malmin is seeing the pent-up excitement show itself in early success.
“I couldn’t be happier with the efforts and the energy of the kids in practice,” he said. “They’re very process driven. And they’ve taken great pride in their tempo.”
Kalispell will be vying against the top clubs in Montana, once again including the Missoula Mavericks and Billings Scarlets, perennial state contenders. Helena also boasts a strong contingent of returning talent.
Malmin has a balanced mix of young, up-and-coming talent and tried-and-true veterans with standout abilities.
Patrick O’Connell is back as one of the team’s leaders on and off the field. O’Connell, a senior at Glacier High School, finished last year with a .382 batting average with 25 stolen bases, 12 doubles and 11 triples, earning first-team all conference at third base. At the state tournament, he hit over .500.
Bringing more power to the lineup are Smith, utility player Jonas Neiman and outfielder Haydn Schlepp, among others.
“I think we’ve got great depth, and that’s going to make us better because kids will be competing for spots all year,” Malmin said.
“They lead by example. Great teams are made when your best players and leaders are the your hardest workers, and we’ve got that in those guys.”
The Lakers will host their annual Canadian Days Tournament on May 19-21. Eight teams are scheduled to attend.
In its second year, the Lakers-Twins Memorial Day Series will take place May 27-29 as a fun three-day rivalry series. A few years ago, the Glacier Twins moved to Class A, which eliminated a friendly competitive conference opponent during the season. As a way to rekindle the rivalry, the teams have started the Memorial Day series, which this year features two games in Kalispell and one in Whitefish.
After that, the Lakers will jump into the heart of the season with the goal of landing in the top eight in the standings and earning a trip to the state tournament on July 26-30 in Bozeman. Next year’s state tournament will be in Kalispell.
“We have a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” Malmin said. “Our challenge in this early season is trying to make the best fit for the team early.”
“We’re focusing on our core principles,” he added, “and we try to touch on those on a daily basis.”
For a complete schedule of games, visit kalispelllakers.org.