After impressive seasons in 2008 and 2009, it appeared the Kalispell Lakers were well-equipped last year to make a run at their first American Legion Baseball AA state championship since 1978.
But, slowed by a number of injuries, the Lakers fell just short of qualifying for the state tournament despite finishing the regular season with a 32-20 record.
With the 2011 season underway, last year’s disappointing finish is serving as a source of motivation as yet another talented Lakers team looks to end Kalispell’s long state title drought. The Lakers kicked off the season with games over the weekend.
The Lakers lost a few key players from the 2010 team, but they return several of their brightest stars. In particular, their pitching staff should be solid, led by all-state left-hander Joe Pistorese.
Head coach Ryan Malmin said Pistorese, a senior at Flathead High School, is one of the best pitchers he’s seen in his 14 years of coaching. Over the past two years playing at the AA level, Pistorese has posted an 18-5 record with 306 strikeouts and 83 walks. His earned-run average in 2009 was 1.23 and last year it was 1.65.
Pistorese has thrown a no-hitter in each of the past two seasons, including a perfect game against the Glacier Twins last year. He also batted .354 at the plate last year.
Cody Dopps, Michael O’Connell, Matt McLean and Sidney Schenk should all see innings this year as well, among other pitchers on the staff.
O’Connell is also the team’s top returning hitter. O’Connell, a 19-year-old shortstop who attends UM, batted .400 in 2010. He led the Lakers in home runs (five); hits (64); triples (four); doubles (19); RBIs (44); and slugging percentage (.663).
Other key returning hitters in the lineup include Dopps, Dillon Matteson, Alex Stanley and Dominic Eickert.
Malmin will rely on a handful of rookies to round out the lineup as the Lakers look to make it back to the American Legion Baseball AA state tournament, held in late July in Butte. Two years ago, the Lakers finished third at state, their best finish since 1988. Their title in 1978 is the only one in the program’s history.
After their run through the state tournament in 2009, the Lakers finished the season with a 37-24 record, including 15-9 in Western AA league games. The year before they also went 15-9 in the league and 34-25 overall. They made it to state that year but didn’t place.
The Kalispell Lakers program was established in 1970. Malmin is in his seventh year leading the program and previously coached in Glasgow from 1997-2005.
For more information on the Kalispell Lakers, including a season schedule, visit www.kalispelllakers.org. The Lakers, who also have an “A” squad to go along with the “AA” team, play their home games at Griffin Field in Kalispell.
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