WESTLOCK - The Westlock Red Lions have waited 11 long months, but now get a chance for revenge this coming weekend when they face the Sherwood Park A’s in the North Central Alberta Baseball League championship series — the second-straight year the league’s top-two clubs will square off for supremacy.
The Red Lions, 8-3-1, and A’s, 11-1, punched their tickets to the Aug. 28-29 finals in Sherwood Park with semifinal sweeps — the Red Lions downed the Edmonton Athletics 5-4 Aug. 20, then posted a dramatic, come-from-behind 6-5 win at a rain-soaked Keller Field Aug. 22. Meanwhile the Sherwood Park A’s drilled the Fort Saskatchewan Reds 16-0 and 6-2 in the other semifinal which wrapped Aug. 21.
Red Lions player/manager Chris Brand said they’re looking forward to the final and serving up some payback to the A’s, who swept them in the 2020 championship played in Westlock last September by 4-1 and 2-1 scores. In fact, the A’s broomed the Red Lions in this year’s regular-season contests, posting an 8-7 extra-inning win July 14, followed by a 7-0 shutout the following night in the Park.
The first two games of the championship are slated for 1 and 4 p.m. Aug. 28 at Centennial Park No. 9 in Sherwood Park, while Game 3, if needed, goes the following day at 2 p.m. And for the folks scoring at home, two wins in this weekend’s best-of-three championship series for the Red Lions will earn them their 19th NCABL title.
“As best as possible we need to try and keep them off the bases. They’ve got a couple of guys who are pretty lethal with the bats,” said Brand, moments after their Sunday-afternoon victory. “If we can play good defence and not give them any extra bases we should be fine.”
There were no easy outs for the Red Lions in their two-game sweep of the Edmonton Athletics, who finished the regular season 6-6.
The series clincher, played on a wet and windy Sunday afternoon, was an emotional rollercoaster as the Red Lions got out of the gate early with three runs in the bottom of the first.
And while they were on the cusp of breaking the game wide open, it was the A’s who were able to capitalize on their chances and Red Lions miscues to take a 5-3 lead in the fourth.
Undaunted, the Red Lions cut the deficit to one in the fifth, then tied the game in the sixth.
With extra innings looming in the bottom seventh, Taylor Heck drilled a single, then stole second base. With two outs, Nathan Brown came to the plate and knocked a hot shot that first bounced off the pitcher and then ate up the second baseman — his throw handcuffed the first baseman, who either dropped the ball, or was pulled off the bag. Ultimately, Brown was ruled safe at first.
In the confusion, Heck, who had been running from the crack of the bat, crossed home plate and the game, despite a heated protest from the A’s over the call, was over.
“We played Red Lions baseball. We stuck around as long as we could and delivered when we needed to,” said Brand. “It was good to see the boys battle. It can be a little disheartening when you’re up 3-0 and end up going down, but when you can come back and win that shows good character.”
Game 1, played Aug. 19 in Edmonton, saw the Red Lions dominate as they took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh. The A’s though didn’t quit, scoring three in the bottom of the frame and had the tying run on third before the Red Lions were able to get a grounder to quell the comeback.
“They threatened all weekend and gave us two good games,” said Brand, tipping his cap to them.