Junior Blaze enter provincials as top seed
Brad Kemp knew his team had talent, but even he was surprised with just how many victories the Langley Junior Blaze strung together.
The U16 baseball team won its first 13 games en route to an impressive 37-5 record and top spot in the B.C. Junior Premier Baseball League. And the last two losses came after the Blaze had already clinched first place.
“You never think it is going to be that good, but with the great pitching that we got all year and the good defence, and hitting the ball well, (we knew) the wins were going to come,” Kemp said.
“You never really put a number on how many wins you think you are going to have, but we definitely knew we would be top three in the league for sure.”
Buoyed by 30 wins in their first 32 games, Langley ran away with the regular season title, finishing five games ahead of the second-place North Shore Junior Twins (32-12).
Langley allowed the fewest runs (119) and earned runs (93) and also struck out the most batters (266).
Leading the way was Jake Polancic, who went 11-2 with a 1.67 earned run average and 61 strikeouts.
“Jake was a really great surprise for us on the mound,” Kemp said.
“He really worked his butt off and got himself into great shape and it really showed throughout the year.”
Also having great seasons on the mound were Yi-Fan Pan (8-0, 0.78 ERA, 32 strikeouts) and Matthew Poirier (7-2, 2.42, 44 strikeouts).
And Parker Logan was a strikeout machine, fanning 48 batters in 48 innings. He went 2-2 with a 3.06 ERA.
At the plate, the Blaze had the most runs and hits out of all the teams as well.
Dominic Baptista led the way with a .419 batting average, which was good for third in the league.
And while no Langley player was in the top six in RBIs, the team did have three in the top 10.
Cole Cantelon had 26 RBIs while Yi-An Pan and Baptista had 25 and 24, respectively.
One of the challenges during the season was keeping the players focused as some times too much success can affect the players’ drive.
“When you are having the success that we are having, as a coaching staff, it can be a little challenging in keeping the motivation,” Kemp said.
“But you are always looking for ways to keep the team motivated and keep them playing their best baseball … never becoming complacent and always pushing for more.”
The Blaze will be in Victoria for the provincial championships this weekend. The eight-team tournament begins tomorrow (Aug. 8) and runs until Sunday.
Langley is in a pool with Abbotsford (29-15), Victoria (29-15) and Whalley (19-25).
The other pool features North Shore (32-12), North Delta (30-14), White Rock (21-23) and Nanaimo (20-24).
The top two in each group make the semifinal round.
Pitching, defence and timely hitting will be key, Kemp said.
“These provincial games are always very tight one-run ball games,” he said.
“If you get the great pitching and play good defence, I will figure out a way to get us two runs.”
Langley enters provincials relatively healthy, except for some soreness.
“But at this time of year, everybody is sore,” Kemp said.
“(But) once you get out there and play, everything goes away.”