WESTLOCK – The Westlock Red Lions’ quest for a 19th North Central Alberta Baseball League title starts next Friday, Aug. 20, in Edmonton.
There the club, who finished second in the NCABL with an 8-3-1 record, will play the third place Edmonton Athletics, who ended the season at 6-6. It’s one of two, three-game semifinal series that’ll determine who squares off for the league crown — the pennant-winning and defending league champs, the Sherwood Park A’s who finished 11-1, take on the fourth place Fort Saskatchewan Reds who ended the year at 5-6-1.
Red Lions player/manager Chris Brand said it’ll be a tough test, but one they’ve worked towards all season. Following Game 1 Aug. 20, the clubs return to Keller Field Sunday, Aug. 22, to finish out the series with Game 2 slated for 1 p.m. and Game 3, if necessary, going at 4 p.m.
“If we don’t execute and hit the ball like we should, we won’t the win the series, regardless of who we play. We have to focus on our own game,” said Brand before the final regular season game between Sherwood Park and Fort Saskatchewan Aug. 12 that determined who the Red Lions would face.
In their final week of regular-season action the Red Lions split a home-and-home series with the St. Albert Cardinals. Game 1, played Monday, Aug. 9 in Westlock, saw the Cardinals jump out to 2-0 lead in the first — an advantage they added to in the fourth on a passed ball. The Red Lions clawed back cashing in two runs in the sixth and had the tying run on third base in the bottom of the seventh with no outs but couldn’t bring him home in the 3-2 defeat.
“We ran into a pitcher who threw a lot of strikes and we were hitting the ball hard, just at them,” said Brand.
The script flipped Aug. 10, as the Red Lions roared out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning in St. Albert. The Cardinals though were able to fight back and actually took a one-run lead before the Red Lions were able to right the ship and pull away for an 8-6 victory.
Brand said the Cardinals, who didn’t field a team in the league last year, are much better than their 4-8 record alleges. The Edmonton Primeaus, who pushed the Red Lions to Game 3 in last year’s league semifinal series, also finished the year at 4-8, while the Parkland Twins finished in the league basement at 3-9.
“They’re a resilient team. Their record may not show it, but they have a decent ball club that can give your problems. They really capitalize on your mistakes,” said Brand about the Cardinals.