Northern Lights land in Red Deer for Western Canada Baseball Championship

Members of the Northern Lights baseball club pose after dropping the 18U AAA Norwest League Tier I championship game to St. Albert two weekends ago. The club is in Red Deer this weekend for the Western Canada Baseball Championship. The team begins round-robin play Thursday evening against the host Red Deer Braves. Photo supplied

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The Northern Lights have one more weekend of tournament-style baseball to play, and it’s the biggest one yet.

The local U18 AAA midget baseball club will be in Red Deer for the Western Canada Baseball Championships. The team got the nod for Red Deer courtesy of a second-place finish at the 18U AAA Norwest League Tier I tournament two weekends ago in Sherwood Park.

The Red Deer Braves, Saskatoon Cubs, North Winnipeg Pirates and North Delta Blue Jays will join the Lights in this prestigious end to the AAA midget baseball season.

“(Playing in this tournament is) very special and I don’t know if this team or the (individual) athletes recognize, yet, how special this accomplishment (is),” Lights Manager Cashtyn DeLeeuw said. The second-year manager played in this event once as a player.

The Lights kick-off the tournament Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. against the Braves. The Lights play the Cubs at 3 p.m. on Friday, the Pirates at noon on Saturday and finish up round-robin play against the Blue Jays at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. The championship game is set for 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.

“I’m going to expect some of the best from the western Canadian provinces,” DeLeeuw said. “We’re going to see talent and all we can control is our game and what we’ve been doing. We’re (looking) to keep the train rolling. We have a ton of momentum on our side and the team has bought in with what us coaches have been preaching.”

“We just need to keep doing what we’ve been doing the whole time (we’re in Red Deer),” Lights hurler Kai Reum added. “Keep a tight defence and don’t get caught up in the (big) moment with nerves, keep a cool head and we should be good.” Reum also plays infield when he’s not hurling heaters at opposition hitters.”

After all the team has endured this season—from losses late in ball games to walk-off wins—all they should be asking and thinking is “Hey, why not us?”

“We’ve come this far,” DeLeeuw said. “Why stop now?”

Chemistry Class

Team chemistry is an oft used buzz word in sports jargon, used as rationale for good, bad or indifferent play, but the manager believes it’s part of the reason the Lights have gotten this far.

“First and foremost, it’s the chemistry and the camaraderie the team has formed,” DeLeeuw said. “It’s something I wanted to see and it’s something that they succeeded at. Every single player on the roster gets along with each other and they all want the best for each other and they pick each other up when we need it. In my eyes, that’s a very important part of the puzzle (for) a championship team. From April until now, that’s come a long way. We had some people who didn’t know each other and now they’re the best of friends.”

Making history

When the Lights finished second in the Tier I championship game, they made provincial baseball history as the first team to win gold in Tier II and then appear in the Tier I championship game. The Lights won the Tier II crown following a 3-2 win over the Edmonton Padres three weekends ago.

“Everybody is happy as the other teams were not expecting us to come this far. We battled hard,” Reum said.
The feat is pretty impressive just on numbers alone, as DeLeeuw explains.

“Throughout the three-day tryout we had (earlier this year) just over 20 people showed up and we play against some city centres that have 90-plus (players) tryout for their teams,” DeLeew said. “What we accomplished, right from the get-go, we’re starting at the bottom and we don’t have much to choose from. And that’s why we started this program, to grow this calibre of baseball throughout the zone and give everybody in the zone a chance to play this calibre of baseball. It shows we have the athletes and talent in Zone 8 to create a good team. We were the second best team in the province and the team should be very proud of what they accomplished.”

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