Knights’ day dawn­ing tak­ing aim at ban­tam dou­ble-A ti­tle

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Ted CLARKE Cit­i­zen staff [email protected]­i­t­i­zen.ca

For one long year, the bit­ter taste has lin­gered in Bren­den Gaboury and the rest of his team­mates who left the field in Rich­mond gut­ted af­ter the Van­cou­ver Ex­pos came from be­hind and beat them for the B.C. Base­ball ban­tam dou­ble-A cham­pi­onship.

That nar­row de­feat took away a trip to San Diego and a chance to play in the Babe Ruth re­gional tour­na­ment.

To­day at Nechako Field (3 p.m. start), Gaboury and the Prince George Jep­son Pe­tro­leum Knights have a chance to dic­tate author­ity and get their re­venge when they meet the Ex­pos in their open­ing game at the 12-team pro­vin­cial tour­na­ment.

“I want to ab­so­lutely kill that team, I don’t want that game to even be close,” said Gaboury.

“A lot of us played on this team last year and we never want to feel that feel­ing again, it was one of the worst feel­ings I’ve ever felt in base­ball. They will never shut up about that, be­ing a Van­cou­ver team, so we have never for­got­ten about and never will, so we bet­ter beat them.

“Ev­ery­body wants to make sure that doesn’t hap­pen again. We have a solid squad this year, more po­si­tion (play­ers), more pitch­ers. We have lots of pitching, which is nice, be­cause last year we ran out of pitching over and over again.”

The Knights love the fact, as pro­vin­cial hosts, all the other teams have to make the trek north to Prince George. This week’s tour­na­ment will be the first games of their ca­reers as rep team play­ers within city lim­its for the Knights, whose clos­est dou­ble-A op­po­nent is in Kam­loops, a six-hour drive away.

They know there’s pres­sure to suc­ceed as the home team over the next five days and nerves will be tested but the trade-off is they get to sleep in their own beds and eat home-cooked meals. It’s a on­cein-life­time op­por­tu­nity and they know it.

“It’s awe­some to play in front of my fam­ily and friends and I’m ex­cited for that but once I step be­tween those lines I have to block out ev­ery­body who’s there and it’s go-time,” said Knights in­fielder/ pitcher James Yan­deau. “This is the first time we’ve ever played at home and it’s go­ing to be pretty darn fun.”

The usual pow­er­houses – TriC­ity Thun­der, Sur­rey Cana­di­ans, Lad­ner Red Sox and Cowichan Val­ley Mus­tangs – are the most likely to spoil the Knights’ lon­gawaited home­com­ing.

The Knights have about 20 games un­der the belts this year while most of the teams they’ll face this week­end have played closer to 50. Funded for the sec­ond year by the Prince George Youth Base­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, they started with in­door work­outs in Jan­uary at the North­ern Sport Cen­tre and the re­sults have shown. The Knights won the Val­ley of Cham­pi­ons tour­na­ment in Kelowna, fin­ished sec­ond at the River City Clas­sic in Kam­loops and just missed qual­i­fy­ing for the play­off round at the Kam­loops In­ter­na­tional tour­na­ment.

“We don’t get to play 50 games but we’re a pretty tight-knit group for only play­ing that much to­gether,” said the 14-year-old Yan­deau.

Sec­ond-year ban­tam Noah Lank is the Knights’ ace and he’s backed on the mound by Caleb Poitras, James Yan­deau, Pre­ston Weight­man, Parker McBurnie, Lu­cas Kelly and Isaak Lank. Weight­man plays short­stop when he’s not pitching and has been steady with his stick, hit­ting fifth in the or­der be­hind lead­off hit­ter Chase Martin, Poitras, Lo­gan Dre­her, McBurnie and Gaboury.

Ri­ley Zum­mack, Lu­cas Langevin and Tyson Ram­say round out the 13-player Knights ros­ter.

The Knights had one last work­out Wednes­day af­ter­noon and ended it with bat­ting prac­tice thrown by coaches Fil­lion and Sawchuk. Sawchuk, a south­paw who pitched three years at the Univer­sity of Mis­souri Bap­tist and played in the Col­lege World Series, warmed up his arm and had the boys whiff­ing at his fast­balls un­til backup catcher Zum­mack caught up to one and smashed a line drive into the out­field to end the ses­sion.

“If they can hit us, they can hit any­body,” quipped Sawchuk.

Two weeks ago, Gaboury was in Ana­heim, Calif., play­ing for Team B.C. at the US Premier Base­ball Fire­cracker Clas­sic tour­na­ment – the only dou­ble-A player on a team picked from the triple-A and Premier League ranks. Gaboury, 14, played in four of the six games and hit .400 in 13 at-bats. B.C. went 4-0 in the round robin then lost in the semi­fi­nals to a Cal­i­for­nia team.

“There was lots of high-level pitching and the hit­ting cal­i­bre was def­i­nitely bet­ter than what I’m used to,” Gaboury said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Gaboury is one of the Knights’ most con­sis­tent hit­ters and de­fen­sively he’s been a rock be­hind the plate – a con­fi­dence shot for the Knights’ pitching staff.

“He’s so trust­wor­thy, hav­ing him back there, you spike a curve ball and you know he’s go­ing to get in front of it,” said Yan­deau. “He’s a great hit­ter, he’s our three-hole hit­ter.”

Strug­gles on of­fence have hurt the Knights’ bot­tom line at times. Yan­deau fig­ures they’ve got the bugs worked out.

“We’ve al­ways had great de­fence, we’re tied down and don’t make a lot of er­rors at all,” said Yan­deau.

“We start the game and get high and then we drop our bats a bit, but that’s changed the last two tour­na­ments. We stayed on our bats the whole time.

“We’re look­ing pretty good. We’re very strong. With the way we play to­gether and the way our coaches coach us, we have a great chance of win­ning this year. Our coaches (Sawchuk, Fil­lion and Doug Clark) are our men­tors on the field and off and I like all three of them a lot.”

Based on what he’s seen in the three tour­na­ments, Fil­lion says there’s no rea­son to doubt the Knights will make it to the semi­fi­nals on Mon­day and go on to con­tend in the cham­pi­onship game later that day at 4:30 p.m.

“We’re got a lot of tal­ent and lot of skill, we’ve got some bats that can swing it and some good arms,” said Fil­lion. “The thing I worry about most for us is con­sis­tency and if we stay in that groove we have a re­ally good squad that can do some da­m­age. We’re scrappy at the plate, we don’t strike out a lot and we get the ball in play. We have a lot of good pitch­ers and de­fen­sively, when we’re on, we’re one of the best teams in the prov­ince. Hope­fully that all comes to­gether this week and they play some clean base­ball.”

Other games to­day on the two di­a­monds at Nechako Field in­clude Layritz-North Lan­g­ley (9 a.m.), Sur­rey-Tri-City (9:15 a.m.), Burn­aby-Lad­ner (noon), Cloverdale-North Shore (12:15 p.m.) and Cowichan Val­ley-Van­cou­ver Vipers (3:15 p.m.).

Open­ing cer­e­monies are at 6 p.m., fol­lowed by the home run derby at 7 p.m. Each of the 12 teams will en­ter one player in the home run derby, with Gaboury rep­re­sent­ing the Knights.

CIT­I­ZEN PHOTO BY BRENT BRAATEN

Prince George Knight prac­tice for ban­tam provin­cials at Nechako Park on Wednes­day af­ter­noon.

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