The Trail Little League Major All-Star Team is going full out with the start of two-a-day practices at Andy Bilesky Park in preparation for the BC Little League Baseball championship in Vancouver July 23-30.
The team began its two daily workouts on Thursday and has already played a dozen games against teams in Cranbrook and the United States going an impressive 10-2 including a third-place finish at the very competitive Kalispell, Mont. tournament on the weekend.
“We’re looking really good,” said coach D. J. Ashman. “Little League’s new rule is that we’ve been able to pick our team on June 1 now … it’s been good so it allowed us to kind of ease into it.”
The Trail All Stars are well-represented from the Kootenays with five players from Nelson, four from Trail, two from Beaver Valley, one from Castlegar, and one from Kimberley. The team will see Ashman, Mike Boisvert, and Jason Startup return as coaches and enjoy a solid core of returning players to provide a foundation for this year’s squad. Back from last year’s team are Darren Issel, Isaac Knight, Brayden DeWitt, Marshall DeBruin, Kelton Forte, and Will Doerkson.
“It gives us a real, real strong base, and then our 11-year olds that made it are all young and keen,” said Ashman. “They’re strong, and we went with a more defensive minded team this year, but obviously if they are the best players in the league, they’re usually pretty darn good hitters too – so all around we feel our team is as strong as it’s ever been.”
The hard-hitting Issel, from Fruitvale, returns to the team and believes this year’s squad can improve on last year’s tough 1-5 showing at the provincials in North Vancouver.
“I think we’re way better this year, because this year we have more second year players,” said Issel.
The 12-year-old also played on the Minor team that made it into the provincial playoffs two years ago in Trail and says, the experience then and last season at the BC Majors has boosted his confidence and improved his play on the field.
“My swings getting better and my fielding is as well. With the two-a-day practices more swings, more practice it’s just going to get better,” he said after breaking the aluminum bat during swings in the new batting cage at Andy Bilesky Park.
In addition to Forte from Nelson, the All Stars also have four other players from the Queen City including Bryce Sookro, Koa Wintraub, Tayten Dewar, and Noah Quinn. The addition of the Nelson contingent is a shot in the arm for the Kootenay representative, and the players are looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s going to be a good experience at provincials and going to the tournaments,” said Quinn. “So far it’s been really fun.”
Quinn, Sookro, and Dewar were also major components of the Nelson Little League Giants team that won the West Kootenay Baseball’s Major-division house league championship last month. Quinn, Sookro, and Forte also played on the Trail Minor All Star team in 2014, developing alongside the Greater Trail players, and know what to expect at provincial competition.
“It was pretty exciting winning it (league championship) for the first time in like a decade,” said Sookro. As for the provincials, the Nelson pitcher is hopeful. “It’s going to be nervewracking, but if we play our best, we’ll have a pretty good shot at it, we have a pretty good team this year.”
The All Stars also went with 13 players on the roster as opposed to 12 in previous years. The extra player gives the team more flexibility as the rules change for mandatory play.
“When you have 12, each kid has to hit once and play two consecutive defensive innings,” said Ashman. “When you bump to 13, each kid only has to hit once, there is no defensive requirements. That gives you a lot more options.”
Pitching, as always, will be key. With the pitch count limiting the number of innings a pitcher can throw during the tournament, the coach’s decision on the rotation in each game is even more critical.
“We feel that we have six or eight pitchers that can contribute. All of our kids can pitch, but a good eight of them will be going regularly so that gives us lots of options as well.”
In 2015, White Rock won the BC championship and went on to win the Canadian championship convincingly over Nepean, Ont. This year, Hastings will host the Canadian Little League championship, giving BC two teams in the tournament.
The Trail All Stars next play in the Chewelah Chataqua Days Little League tournament this weekend and will round out their preparation with a tournament in Orofino before travelling to the provincial championship.