Sports

Finding Their Stride

The Kalispell Lakers hope for a strong finish to the AA baseball season

Summer in Northwest Montana can sometimes get off to a slow start. The chilly weather of spring persists well into May some years. Things might warm up in June, but it’s traditionally the rainy season in this neck of the woods.

But July? That’s when summer really hits its stride, with long stretches of warm weather. The same can be said for the local American Legion Baseball program, the Kalispell Lakers.

Head coach Ryan Malmin said the AA team had a strong start at the beginning of the year, going 15-2 in preseason, non-conference play before hitting a rough patch at the beginning of June. Since conference play began on June 2, the team has gone 10-9 in conference games.

“Like every year, it has been a work in progress,” Malmin said last week.

The 2018 season was a big one for the Lakers, especially since the Class AA Montana/Alberta American League state tournament came to Kalispell for the first time in 13 years. Hopes were high that a veteran team anchored by two excellent pitchers, Sam Elliot and Drew Scherrer, would help the Lakers earn their first state title in 40 years. The team ultimately fell short of that goal, despite going 39-16 for the season. Elliot and Scherrer, along with shortstop Randy Stultz, were named to the Montana/Alberta American Legion Baseball all-star team.

But this year, the Lakers are without their two all-star pitchers, Malmin said, adding that Elliot and Scherrer were responsible for the majority of the team’s pitches last year. This year, the AA pitching staff includes Taylor Morton, Jack Corriveau, Thomas O’Connell, Connor Drish, Wesley Palmer, Logan Siblerud, Ryan Galvan, Ryan McDonald, AJ Wood, and Kobe Burland. But even their deep bullpen had trouble keeping opponents’ bats quiet during the final half of games in June. Malmin said that in June four of the team’s losses happened when they entered late innings with a three-run lead.

“Our biggest challenge was finishing games,” Malmin said. “We just couldn’t get those final six outs.”

In recent weeks, the Lakers have continued to find mixed results. Over the holiday weekend, the Lakers lost two games during a three-game series against the Bozeman Bucks. During one of those games, on July 7, the Lakers were down by seven runs before clawing their way back to an improbable 8-7 win. Unfortunately, the Lakers didn’t have it in them to put away the Bucks during a second Sunday game, falling to the Bozeman team 6-2.

But it’s performances like that 8-7 comeback that has Malmin optimistic as the team prepares for the State AA Legion Tournament in Billings July 27 – 30.

“Our goal is to always play our best baseball at the end of July, and I don’t think we’ve played out best baseball yet. There’s room to grow,” he said. “The team just has to keep grinding it out and practicing day in and day out.”

The Lakers have five more conference home games against Lethbridge on July 17 and Helena on July 20 and 21. Those games take place at Kalispell’s Griffin Field on Begg Park Drive. The team will also play non-conference games during the Sapa-Johnsrud Tournament in Whitefish July 11 to 14.

For more information, visit www.kalispelllakers.org.

jfranz@flatheadbeacon.com