The West Kootenay U16 ‘A’ Orioles open their season this weekend with a pair of doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday at home at Butler Park.
The Orioles begin play in the Spokane American Legion Baseball League and face Gonzaga Prep on Saturday followed by a two-game tilt versus Shadle Park Sunday.
The Orioles team is made up of players from across the West Kootenay and most kicked off the season playing for the J. L. Crowe Hawks and in the Trail Youth Baseball League. Their game-time with the rep team has been limited, but they have been fine-tuning their skills through practices and competed in a tournament earlier this month.
“We entered a tournament a few weeks ago against older competition and did pretty well considering,” said West Kootenay coach Jim Maniago. “So we got a look at everyone on our team and got a feel for what we’ve got.”
Maniago is confident that the talented group will compete well against their U.S. counterparts in the tough nine-team ‘A’ American Division.
“I think our team will be fairly strong,” said Maniago. “The core is from our Little League team in 2016 that went to the Provincial final. We are in the stronger division in the Spokane league so we’ll see the best teams and find out where we stack up.”
The ‘A’ Orioles are built on depth, with most of their players able to play multiple positions. The O’s have eight or nine guys that Maniago is comfortable with on the mound, and another three that can come on in relief if needed.
“Defensively we’ll get better once we can practice a bit more but we’ve got some pretty athletic kids so I think we should be solid.
“Hitting will be the key, the American teams can all hit so we’ll need to do that as well in order to compete. We should be able to do that, we have some big strong kids, but we’ll see.”
The West Kootenay team has traditionally played in the National League, so have yet to see action against their new American Legion rivals, which include Central Valley A, Gonzaga Prep, Mt. Spokane Wild, Spokane Indians, Newport HS, Prairie Cardinals, Shadle Park, and the University Titans A.
“From what I hear all these teams are solid, well coached and will be expecting to win, they all want to compete for the league championship.”
The Orioles will have their work cut out for them, but the core group has had success throughout their baseball careers. Their Trail All Star teams made it to the semifinal of the 2014 BC Little League Minor Baseball Championships and played in the final at the 2016 BC Little League Major provincial championship, losing by one run to Whalley.
“It’s hard to say without knowing the competition but we should make the District playoffs and we’d like to make it to State, but that’s a long way off,” added Maniago. “Our teams haven’t made it that far in a few years but we think it’s a realistic goal. If the kids work hard and commit themselves, we’re hoping for a fun summer.”
West Kootenay hosts Gonzaga Prep on Saturday with the games at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. On Sunday, the ‘A’ Orioles face the Shadle Park Shockers with Game 1 at 1 p.m. and Game 2 at 3 p.m. All home games are at Butler Park.