WESTLOCK - For a third-straight year the Westlock Red Lions failed to win a game in the North Central Alberta Baseball League Championship Series, this time falling to the Parkland Twins who captured their first league title.
The Red Lions, who were searching for their 19th NCABL crown and first since 2017, opened the best-of-three series Thursday, Aug. 25, in Spruce Grove with a tough 6-5 loss; a game they led until the Twins surged ahead in the bottom of the sixth inning following a two-run triple that cleared the bases.
At Keller Field in Westlock Saturday, Aug. 27, both starting pitchers were superb but it was the Twins who were able to plate runs in the second and third innings. While the Red Lions managed to get some action on the basepaths throughout, they never got a runner past second base and went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh — the game only lasted 90 minutes, a testament to the error-free play by both clubs.
Player/manager Chris Brand was blunt saying “it sucks” to come up short yet again after being swept in the 2020 and 2021 finals by the Sherwood Park Athletics, but tipped his cap to the Twins, a team they only beat once in four games during the regular season.
The Twins, who went 17-3 to capture the regular-season pennant, and the Red Lions, who finished in second at 14-6, were far and away the two best teams over the course of the 20-game schedule, combining for 343 runs and only allowing 121. The bottom three teams, the Fort Saskatchewan Reds, St. Albert Cardinals and Barrhead Orioles, only scored 322 runs while allowing 542.
In the playoffs the Red Lions dominated the Reds in their semifinal series with 9-1 and 13-3 wins, while the Twins went 2-0 versus the Cardinals with an 11-1 drubbing in Game 1 of their best of three, and an 8-7 squeaker to close the series.
“We were happy to be back in the final, but it sucks losing three years in a row. Next year can’t come soon enough. But when you play the best you can and you’re not losing because of misplays or errors, then it’s a bit easier to live with,” said Brand, while the Twins celebrated across the diamond with the league championship trophy.
“They’re a good ball club and they don’t give up. Today, their pitching was really good and their defence was excellent. When we were getting momentum, they just sucked it right out of us.”
Brand said they’re already looking forward to 2023, which will be the Red Lions 50th year in existence. He admits there’ll be some added pressure to perform but likes their chances to be back in the final as he expects all of the current roster to return.
“We won a league championship in the 50th anniversary of the league (in 2017), so it would be nice to do it for the 50th anniversary of our team, too,” Brand said. “From what I know, most of the guys are coming back next year, so we’re really looking forward to it.”