WESTLOCK – Long the North Central Alberta Baseball League’s dominant franchise, the Westlock Red Lions will begin their quest for an unprecedented 19th championship May 10 when they’ll host the Fort Saskatchewan Reds at Keller Field.
Red Lions player/manager Chris Brand, now into his 15th year with the club, said with the contraction of the NCABL down to the five teams, which includes the loss of the two-time defending champs from Sherwood Park as well the Edmonton Primeaus and Edmonton Athletics, the goal for 2022 is simple: dominate the diamond.
Over the last two regular seasons the Red Lions went 7-0-1 and 8-3-1 and won the regular-season pennant in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign but were swept two-straight in the league finals both years by the Sherwood Park Athletics. Brand said while they would have liked another crack at the A’s, they’ll focus squarely on the task at hand.
“It’s too bad, especially with Sherwood Park being out. We would have liked another run at them to take the throne back. It’ll definitely be a change not seeing a lot of familiar faces around the diamond this year with the loss of those three teams,” said Brand.
“I think the goal this year is to be back in the finals. There shouldn’t be a reason for us not to be there with the team that we have.”
Brand said they’ve turned over at least half of the roster, adding that some familiar faces who took last year off are back as well as players from the former Edmonton-area clubs. The club’s first practice was slated for April 24, while the Senior ‘AAA’ Edmonton Cubs from the Sunburst League will be in Westlock May 7 for an exhibition tilt, with game time at Keller Field set for 3 p.m.
“We’ll have around 18 to 19 players this year. I’m really looking forward to the year, there are a couple of new guys from St. Albert who’ll have a big impact on the team,” said Brand.
Following their Opening Day home matchup versus the Reds, the club will hit the road for a May 13 tilt versus the Parkland Twins, then will face the St. Albert Cardinals in St. Albert May 17 and finally return home May 24 to take on the Barrhead Orioles, who are returning to the league after a five-year hiatus.
“I understand it’ll be a fairly young team, but it will just be nice to face a close rival like Barrhead,” said Brand. “It’ll be good to start the season on time and finish on time. And hopefully the weather permits and there’s some good baseball to watch this summer.”