Blaze ready to go as ball season kicks off

Langley Premier baseball team prepared to defend 2011 provincial championship

The Langley Blaze won the Best of the West baseball showcase in Kamloops over the weekend. The U18 Premier Baseball League team begins its regular season on April 7 at McLeod Park.

The Langley Blaze won the Best of the West baseball showcase in Kamloops over the weekend. The U18 Premier Baseball League team begins its regular season on April 7 at McLeod Park.

While the weather the past few weeks may be misleading, baseball season really is ready to go.

The Langley Blaze kick off defence of their 2011 provincial championship banner with a home doubleheader against the North Shore Twins on Saturday (April 7) at McLeod Park to start the 2012 B.C. Premier (U18) Baseball League season.

The games go at noon and 2:30 p.m.

“We are quite young this year, but we have some talent,” said coach Jamie Bodaly.

“We are not as strong or as deep as years’ past, but I think by the end of the year, we should be among the top three.

“I still think we have a good chance of winning it.”

In addition to the Blaze’s annual March trip to Arizona for spring training, the team was in mid-season form over the weekend, taking top spot at the Best of the West showcase tournament in Kamloops.

It was the third straight year Langley has won the tournament,

The Blaze beat the Okotoks Dawgs 5-3 in the final.

Mitchell Robinson was the final game most valuable player while Mason Cratty won the tournament’s MVP award.

Newcomer Marc-Andrew Habeck and Justin Geerts led the way on the mound while solid hitting from Bill Germaine, Preston Kokotailo and Cratty led the offence.

“We won, but there are still a lot of things we can work on,” Bodaly said.

“The talent alone won it for them.”

While the majority of the Blaze roster is younger, that does not mean they do not know how to win.

Those returning with the Premier team were part of a team which went 25-23 — after having to forfeit a dozen wins because the use of ineligible players — but rebounded to capture the provincial banner.

And the players who graduated from the Junior (U16) Blaze program were part of a team which was an impressive 41-7 to capture the regular season crown. The team lost in the provincial championship final.

“It is good they have that experience, now we just have to teach them the (Premier) game a little bit,” Bodaly said.

“They have the talent, but it is a different game going up a higher level; the game is a lot quicker.”

The Blaze pitching staff will by led by a pair of right-handers, Habeck, an import from Winnipeg, and Geerts.

Geerts pitched last season with Langley, going 3-4 with a 2.20 earned run average and 58 strikeouts in 35 innings.

Other pitchers expected to be counted on include Mitchell Kennedy (14-1, 0.97 ERA, 61 strikeouts in 94 innings), Liam Stroud (10-0, 1.49 ERA, 99 strikeouts in 70 innings) and Aston Mantle (7-3, 1.19 ERA, 82 strikeouts in 58 innings). All three played for the Jr. Blaze in 2011.

Offensively, Cratty and Germaine will be counted upon for their bats as will Tyler O’Neill.

Germaine led the team with 27 RBIs and hit .321 while Cratty batted .329 and 15 RBIs.

O’Neill, who is recovering from hernia surgery, but should be back soon, hit .348 with 37 RBIs for the Jr. Blaze.

The Jr. Blaze will also provide plenty more offence.

Nick Rutckyj won the BCJPBL triple crown, leading the league with a .402 average, while bashing a pair of home runs and driving in 38 runs.

Kokotailo (.383, 38 RBIs), Greg Rogers (.339, 10 RBIs), Michael Dagg (.328, 21 RBIs)and Mitchell Robinson (.398, 23 RBIs) will also be counted on to fuel the offence.

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