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Lakers begin 2024 season Sunday

Daily Inter Lake | April 13, 2024 12:00 AM

The Kalispell Lakers AA American Legion team will field a fairly young lineup when its season begins Sunday at 1 p.m., with a doubleheader at Griffin Field against Missoula.

Veteran coach Ryan Malmin notes his six seniors could all be super seniors next summer — making the 2025 team extremely veteran — but that’s a ways off. Right now, he likes the makeup of his team.

“It’s a great group of kids that carry great energy,” Malmin said. ““It’s really kind of a bunch of Dirtbags who get after it, have fun. They like to be challenged.”

The reference to the self-proclaimed Long Beach State Dirtbags, an NCAA power that made several College World Series appearances, is telling. The Lakers won 34 games last year with one player — Max Holden, in his final Legion season — getting post-season honors. Malmin feels their depth and exuberance will be a potent combination.

Ostyn Brennan is one of the half-dozen returnees; he hit leadoff and played infield because knee issues kept him from playing catcher. Malmin is pleased to have a fully healthy Brennan back behind the plate this season.

Add in shortstop Kaden Drish and second baseman Carter Schlegel — who are interchangeable, Malmin said — and the Lakers are pretty strong up the middle, with outfielders Andre Cephers, Colin Leonard and Oscar Kallis back as well.

Cephers perhaps flew under the radar last summer, given that his earned run average over 62 innings was a sparkling 1.98.

“He blossomed in his first year as a AA guy,” Malmin said. “If we can have anything close to that this year we’ll be happy.”

Back from two years ago is Michael Owens, who missed the 2023 season after shoulder surgery. He’ll play first base, though Brysen Herion and Bryce Buckmaster — both up from the last year’s A Lakers — could figure in there as well. 

At third base are two more 2023 A Lakers: Luke Nikunen and Hunter Fann. Jackson Heino is also up from Class A and plays outfield.

Malmin said another unique team is the depth of pitching. Cephers, who also catches, has the most experience; nobody is a fireballer. Eleven different Lakers could be on the bump at some point, though Malmin mentioned Cephers, Nikunen, Kallis, Schlegel and Buckmaster up front.

The hardest thrower may be Brennan. “It’d be ideal if he could come in and close games for us,” Malmin said.

“It’s about who is going to be fearless in the strike zone, fill the zone up and allow us to make strengths defensively,” he added. “We’re going to use April and May to figure out how the staff evolves.”

The A Lakers begin their season Sunday as well, in Missoula against the A Mavericks.

Both teams will be in action at home next Saturday: The AA Lakers take on Cranbrook, Alberta, and the A Lakers bring in Great Falls.

    Kalispell Lakers AA starting pitcher Andre Cephers delivers in the first inning against the Sherwood Park AAA Athletics in the Canadian Days Tournament at Griffin Field on Saturday, May 20. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
    Kalispell Lakers AA's Carter Schlegel connects on an RBI double in the first inning against the Sherwood Park AAA Athletics in the Canadian Days Tournament at Griffin Field on Saturday, May 20. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)