The talent is there for the Langley Blaze to once again be among the elite teams in the B.C. Premier Baseball League.
“I think right now, we are one of the top two or three teams, and hopefully by the end, we are the top team,” said Blaze coach Jamie Bodaly.
“We have a lot of talent. Our job as coaches is to push them and get them better.”
The Blaze went 35-12 in 2014 and capped things off by capturing the provincial championship.
And Langley returns nine players from last year’s title-winning team, including what should be the ball club’s top two pitchers, Kyle Ross and Cooper Misic.
Ross, a six-foot four left-hander, was 5-1 with an 0.85 earned run average in 41 innings pitched with 51 strikeouts.
Misic, a six-foot-six right-hander, was 6-0 with a 1.40 ERA in 40 innings pitched, striking out 30 batters.
Two other expected big arms — Kristjan Storrie and Kurt Meeberg — are battling injuries but could potentially join the rotation later at some point.
“Our pitching has more depth but not as high-end (as last year),” Bodaly said.
“I think our defence is going to be better than last year and our hitting is not as good as last year, but we are going to manufacture (offence).”
The offence will be led by returnees Hayden Jaco (.347 batting average, .400 on-base percentage) with 15 RBIs and Connor Chorpita, who was second on the team with 23 RBIs. He also had a team-high nine doubles and 12 extra-base hits. Chorpita and another returnee, Dakota Curry ,were also tied for the team lead with two home runs apiece. Curry also came up clutch at provincials back in August, delivering a walk-off bases loaded double to score two runs and give the Blaze a 4-3 extra innings win over the North Shore Twins in the gold-medal game. And the day before in the semifinals, Curry was at it as well, hitting a two-run extra-innings home run for the 4-2 victory.
Langley also adds eight new players who have graduated from the Jr. Blaze ranks.
The U16 team won the B.C. Junior Premier Baseball League title with a 37-7 record before losing all three of their games at the provincial championships.
Jake Polancic went 11-2 for the team with a 1.67 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 63 innings pitched while Yi-Fan Pan was 8-0 with a 0.78 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 53.2 innings pitched.
Both are right-handed pitchers.
Parker Logan, a left-handed pitcher was 2-2 with a 3.06 ERA. He struck out 48 batters in 48 innings.
Offensively, Yi-An Pan had 25 RBIs and Markus Gregson had 21.
Bodaly expects some sort of learning curve for the players new to the U18 level.
“I think by June they are going to get physically stronger and learn the game from us and take off,” he said.
The Blaze kick off the PBL season with a pair of doubleheaders this weekend, on Saturday at South Surrey Athletic Park against the White Rock Tritons and on Sunday at McLeod Park against the Nanaimo Pirates (noon and 2:30 p.m.).
Langley enters the season on a bit of a down note as for the first time in six years, the team failed to win the Kamloops Best of the West tournament.
“We got humbled a bit in Kamloops and made a lot of mistakes,” Bodaly said.
“I think all that poor weather when we got back from Arizona, we weren’t on the field for about eight days so we went to Kamloops and looked like we hadn’t been on the field in like, two months.”
Prior to that, the Blaze had gone on the annual spring training trip to Arizona and they also won a tournament they entered in Las Vegas back in February.
“The kids have worked really hard (this spring),” Bodaly said.