A Lakers look to pile up innings, victories

Apr. 19—The Kalispell A Lakers enter their 2024 baseball season with just three veterans, which even by Class A American Legion standards is a small number.

But fifth-year coach Walker Malmin is excited about what's coming up, on the mound and elsewhere.

"This is the most eighth-graders and middle schoolers I've ever had on my team," he said Thursday, a couple days before the Lakers open their home schedule Saturday against Great Falls. "I think this is going to be a big year for us, development-wise.

"We're going to have eight-plus guys giving us (solid) innings. It's just developing and finding where they fit into the rotation."

Cale Brink is one of the veterans, and especially on the pitching staff. A middle reliever and closer last season, Malmin wants him to lead the rotation in 2024. "This year he has to fill that role as the No. 1 guy, the innings eater," he said.

Kyler Kroft and Max Schara are the next guys on the bump: Malmin likes Kroft's velocity and curve; Schara throws three pitches and is crafty.

Malmin added that Wyatt Sharp, Liam Rech and Jordan Schwan should figure in as well, along with Tait Orme, once his high school season with Whitefish ends.

When they're not pitching, they'll find spots on the field: Sharp at second base; Rech at first; Orme and Schwan in the outfield.

Schara can move around the infield and Kroft is a shortstop who can provide pop in the middle of the lineup.

The other two "veterans" are Hunter Glidden and Bryce Quinnell. Malmin likes Glidden as a leadoff hitter, a baserunner (26 steals last summer, in 30 attempts) and center fielder who covers both gaps. "He's a gazelle out there," Malmin said.

Quinnell caught last year but with the addition of Brady Buckmaster and Bransen Holzer, Malmin can move him back to one of the corner outfield spots. Holzer is also a very capable infielder.

Dillon Wink, Tanner Vojta and Beau McEwen are three more players that should figure in as the season goes on.

"Offensively, we have to replace a bunch," Malmin noted. "The top five guys in RBIs are gone. And stolen bases are going to be a big thing for us."

The Lakers had two players steal 30 bases last year that aren't back, and two more that stole at least 20.

The Lakers opened with a pair of one-run losses against the Missoula A Mavericks last Sunday, 10-9 and 8-7. The main problem wasn't steals or run-producing; it was 18 free passes issued.

"We scored first, they answered back, and we did a good job of answering," Malmin said. "For the most part in the two games I thought we played pretty clean baseball.

"It was good to see that we battled and chipped and were in the games. We just need to finish those close ones moving forward."

For the second straight season enough Legion players came out to fill four rosters: The Lakers are again fielding Gold and Red Class B teams. "The growth of our program is always exciting," Malmin said.

The Lakers play Great Falls at Archie Roe at 1 p.m. on Saturday; then have two more games against the A Mavericks Sunday at 1 p.m. at Griffin Field.