By Dillon Tabish, 6-28-12
||Caption: Kalispell Lakers’ Hank McLeod pitches during a game against the Glacier Twins. - Justin Franz/Flathead Beacon
The sunshine showed up just in time for the Kalispell Lakers. Another game delayed by rain could yet again doom any inkling of momentum. But summertime arrived, finally, and the Lakers shined.
Kalispell’s AA American Legion baseball team regained its rhythm in a make-up game against rival Glacier, battering the Twins 16-1 in seven innings on June 20. The win bumped the Lakers above .500 in the tightly contested Western AA standings. Kalispell (18-13 overall, 5-5 in conference) is in fourth place, just outside a top-three state tournament berth with 15 conference games left. The Twins (6-22, 0-6) are in last but earn an automatic bid to state because they’re hosting the eight-team tournament, Aug. 1-5. The Twins are also hosting the annual Sapa-Johnsrud tournament this week in Whitefish.
Kalispell’s victory against Glacier reflected a possible resurgence in the making for a club that’s shown signs of greatness. Kalispell dealt first-place Missoula its only conference loss of the season earlier this month. But during a recent two-week stretch, the Lakers only played three games and had practices canceled because of rain. Any momentum fell by the wayside.
“Our struggle has been consistency, but there’s been some definite signs of great potential,” Lakers skipper Ryan Malmin said.
Kalispell is trying to advance to the state tournament for the third time in four years. The Lakers’ best finish was in 2009 when they placed third. Only three players graduated from last year’s fifth-place team, but they were significant ones, like Joe Pistorese and Michael O’Connell. O’Connell was the team’s big bat. Pistorese was Kalispell’s perennial ace the last three years and established one of the state’s best legion pitching careers in recent memory. The Chicago White Sox drafted the Flathead High graduate but he opted to play at Washington State University. He finished his first collegiate season ranked on the Cougar all-time freshman lists for ERA (third all-time, 2.44), games started (tied for fifth with 12), wins (tied for eighth with four) and innings pitched (tied for eighth with 66 1/3).
In other words, “we’ve got some shoes to fill,” Malmin said.
“But we’ve got guys who are capable of coming out and competing and getting wins for us,” he added. “We’ve got some veterans but we’re excited with the young guys we have.”
Two new young players – Charlie Obermiller and Adam Frandsen – have especially emerged as strong replacements. In his first season since being moved up from the A team, Frandsen leads Kalispell in batting average (.386) and in pitching ERA (2.79 through 15 2/3 innings). He also has the second most RBI with 23. Obermiller is third in batting average at .358. O’Connell’s younger brother, Sean, is second at .377.
One of Kalispell’s strengths appears to be its symmetry between youth and experience. Veteran Cody Dopps leads the team in home runs (six) and RBI (27). Matt McLean is 6-1 with a 3.89 ERA through 41 2/3 innings, the most on the team.
“We’re really closely knit this year,” veteran outfielder Dillon Matteson said. “We’ve seen improvements really everywhere. We’ve had a lot of players step up for us big time this year. It’s good to see.”
Matteson cited the stormy early season as the team’s main challenge. Players were having a hard time meshing on and off the field and it showed in the standings.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity and we’ve gone through some ups and downs, but overall we’ve had a pretty good season so far and we’re on the up right now,” Matteson said.
After a lull in action the Lakers traveled to Pullman, Wash., two weeks ago for the annual Summer Palouse Series tournament. The boys finished 2-3.
“We had five games in 48 hours,” Malmin said last week. Including the Twins games two days later, that’s the most action the Lakers have seen in a week all season.
“That’s important,” Malmin said. “It’s going to be a battle. All the teams are pretty well balanced although Missoula has a stronghold on first place right now.”
The Great Falls Tribune released the first Montana-Alberta American Legion baseball power poll last week. In Class AA, the Billings Royals are ranked first followed by the Bozeman Bucks, Missoula Mavericks, Medicine Hat Monarchs and Billings Scarlets. In the west, Missoula has a 9-1 record. Medicine Hat is second at 4-2. Lethbridge is third, 5-3. The Great Falls Chargers are 2-8.
Under new head coach Scott Murray, the Glacier Twins are experiencing growing pains this season. The club graduated almost all of last year’s roster. The Twins finished just short of the state tournament last summer despite nearly doubling their win total from the previous year.
Carl Talsma leads the team in hitting (.355) and is second in RBI (nine). Garrett Houston has 10 RBI. As a group, the Twins are hitting .257. Connor Donahue leads the pitching staff with a 3.65 ERA.
The Lakers are hosting a family-fun Barn Party fundraiser on July 14. The event will include games and begin at 2 p.m. The location is 1441 Swan Ridge Road. Travel 4.5 miles north on Columbia Falls Stage and turn west on Swan Ridge and drive to the end of the road.
For more information about the Kalispell Lakers, visit www.kalispelllakers.org
. For the Glacier Twins, visit www.glaciertwins.org
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