WESTLOCK – The Westlock Red Lions will now have to wait for 2024 to capture their 19th North Central Alberta League (NCABL) title following a 2-1 series defeat at the hands of the St. Albert Cardinals.
The club opened the 2023 NCABL championship series with a huge 7-4 win in St. Albert Aug. 25, and held a 3-1 advantage heading into the top of the fifth inning of Game 2, Aug. 26, at Keller Field when the wheels, quite simply, fell off. The Cardinals, who won the league pennant with a 15-5 record, struck for three runs in the top of the frame to move ahead 4-3, then put up five more in the top of the sixth inning to make it 10-3 and even the best-of-three affair.
In the winner-take-all Game 3 played Aug. 26 back in St. Albert, the Cardinals came out firing with three runs in the opening inning which was more than enough as they rolled to an 8-0 victory.
Player/manager Chris Brand said they were swinging the bats well Sunday, but just couldn’t generate any base runners to put any pressure on the Cardinals. It’s a tough end for the club who had another great regular season and posted an 11-9 record to finish third, then earned their spot in the final with a scrappy 2-1 series win over the second-place Parkland Twins. That said, it stings as this is the fourth-straight appearance by the Red Lions in the NCABL final without a title as their last came in 2017.
“It was disappointing. St. Albert just had our number this year and we’ve had their number over the last handful of seasons. Baseball, as much as it is an out-by-out game, there’s something to be said for momentum. And if you can’t get the momentum back, you pay for it,” said Brand following the loss. “This group of guys, the core guys, we’ve been part of eight or nine championship runs during our 16 years. So, we’re always dancing and making noise … but sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and this was just one of the ones that we lost.”
This offseason will be one of change as Brand confirmed he’s relinquishing managerial duties, but will continue to play for the club. He said over the winter they’ll figure if they’ll name a full-time skipper or have multiple players pitch in — Brand’s been a Red Lion since 2003 and has spent 12 of those years either managing or co-managing the team.
“It’s a hard position to leave. It’s a job I’ve always enjoyed and I’m really going to miss it, but life changes. And I’m still going to be around the club, but just in a different role,” said Brand. “We’re still building and we have a good bunch of new kids coming up that will continue to add to our depth. We’re still a very strong club and with a few small additions, I think we’ll even be better next year.”