A new legion baseball season is underway and the valley’s lone remaining Class AA club — the Kalispell Lakers — is back with a young lineup of players eager to make it a memorable summer.
“You’re always excited with a new start,” Kalispell’s ninth-year head coach Ryan Malmin said. “Despite losing a lot of kids from last year we’ve had some good numbers (working in the offseason) and I’m excited to see how that progresses into game situations.”
The Lakers’ next game is Sunday, April 27, with a pair of seven-inning nonconference games against the Mission Valley Mariners, a talented Class A squad from Polson that has developed into a perennial state contender.
The Glacier Twins, the Class A squad in Whitefish, held its annual Black and White game on Monday at Memorial Park to prep for the summer season.
The Lakers graduated four everyday starters and four pitchers after last season, making this year’s squad the youngest that Malmin has coached in his successful stretch as skipper.
“We have a lot of question marks and we’ll be figuring out who’s going to fit into those starting roles and the pitching staff,” Malmin said. “We’ll make sure we get down the process and understand the expectations and what we want to do. It’ll be a slow process but we’ll work through it.”
Justin Wallace, a three-year AA player and the team’s new ace on the mound, is one of Malmin’s returning leaders, including second baseman Charlie Obermiller, catcher Adam Frandsen and outfielder Chris Sibley. Infielders Justin Rich and Walker Malmin and outfielder Brandon Maassen should also provide quality play for the Lakers.
“We’ve got a really good group of guys and we worked hard in the offseason. I’m really excited to get going,” Wallace said.
The Lakers will have to hold their own against a tough field of AA teams, most notably the Missoula Mavericks, one of the state’s powerhouse programs that is bringing back the bulk of last season’s state runner-up squad.
Last season the Kalispell Lakers qualified for the state tournament in Billings but suffered back-to-back one-run losses. The Bozeman Bucks dealt the Lakers a 2-1 loss in the opening round. The Billings Scarlets edged Kalispell 4-3 in loser-out action and Kalispell finished the season 29-29.
“We struggled with key hits in key situations. That was the difference at state: we lost two games in the bottom of the ninth inning. The difference was those key hits that would’ve put us into the top four,” Malmin said.
“We’re emphasizing doing the little things. Greatness comes from doing a lot of little things well.”
The Billings Royals won their second straight Class AA legion state title last summer, beating the Missoula Mavericks 5-0 in the championship.
This season the two Billings squads and Missoula will once again be the teams to beat.
The Lakers will have a few weeks of nonconference action to sharpen their skills and establish an everyday lineup. The popular Canadian Days Tournament is May 16-18 and will feature several teams from north of the border. After that, the Lakers will travel to Missoula for the Memorial Day tournament, before jumping head first into the heart of the conference schedule.
“I’ve been pleased with the tempo and the communication and the energy that the kids have brought to practice each day,” Malmin said.
The Kalispell Lakers are holding their annual benefit golf tournament April 26 at Village Greens. The tournament format will be a best-ball, four-person scramble. The tournament includes range balls, team and hole prizes, including a $10,000 hole-in-one prize, a Calcutta, refreshments and a hot lunch.
Entry forms are available on their website or at Village Greens or Buffalo Hill Golf Club or by calling Marc Liechti (261-4810) or Tim Obermiller (253-2439).
New this year, the Kalispell Lakers will host an evening social at the Buffalo Hill Golf Club on April 25 in appreciation of golfers, fans and supporters of the legion baseball program. It will begin at 7 p.m. and will include hors d’oeuvres, a no-host bar and a live auction.
For more information, visit the Lakers’ website.
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