Lank’s gem gives Knights get their revenge
Noah Lank is an imposing pitcher. Just turned 15, he stands six-foot-two and packs 210 pounds onto a lean muscular frame, and as he proved to the Vancouver Expos in their opening game at the B.C. Minor Baseball bantam double-A championship Thursday at Nechako Field, the Prince George Jepson Petroleum Knights ace is quite capable of putting one over the fence.
Like he did in the fifth inning in what ended up a 7-3 victory for the Knights.
Lank’s solo shot that capped the Knights’ scoring was his reward after he stumped the Expos defensively in those first five innings, allowing just three hits and just one run in a 10-strikeout outing.
“In all my years of (rep team) ball I’ve never actually played at home, and just to have all the fans here and play well for the people put there is lots of fun, it definitely drives you more,” said Lank.
“I was a little bit nervous at the start but it felt way better after that first pitch. Both my curveball and my fastball were working well, I don’t throw anything else.
“People don’t expect much, being an up-north team, but we really got it done today.”
Lank, the MVP of last year’s B.C. Minor provincial championship, is not known for his long-ball power but got all of the pitch Julius Heck served him with two out in the fifth.
“I haven’t been (hitting home runs) the last couple years but I knew I had it in me,” Lank said. “Now I’ve put it together and fixed my swing and it feels a lot better.”
The Knights gave Lank a 4-0 lead to work with heading into the top of the second inning.
Heck got into some trouble right away when leadoff hitter Chase Martin stroked a single. Then with two runners on, Brenden Gaboury brought Martin home with a oneout double, followed by a hit from Parker McBurnie that scored Logan Dreher.
Thirteen-year-old second baseman Caleb Poitras then delivered a half-swing that went for two-run single and the Knights batted through the entire order before they were retired.
Heck started the second inning striking out Martin but walked the next batter he faced, Preston Weightman, and that set the stage for Dreher, who doubled in the fifth Knights run.
“The first inning was the difference, we were asleep that first inning and kind of woke up after that,” said Expos manager Tom Griffiths. “We just weren’t ready to field the ball, that’s what we had problems with.
“We lack some hitting because we came through the wild card to get here. It was four games in two days there and we won three of them and we just pounded the ball all over the place. Today we just weren’t awake.”
The Expos got on the board in the fourth inning. Shortstop Miller Mulcahy led off the inning with a double and Silas Hussey’s base hit scored Mulcahy.
The Expos added two more in the seventh off Knights reliever Lucas Kelly but ran out of innings.
Lank was helped out of a jam a couple of times when catcher Gaboury let loose his cannon throwing arm to gun down Vancouver baserunners trying to steal.
“He’s awesome, he’s probably the best catcher in B.C., and to have him on the team is a big deal,” said Lank.
The Expos have eight first-year bantams on a 10-player roster and have just one player (who is injured and did not make the trip) remaining from the team that overcame a 7-1 deficit and beat the Knights last year 9-8 in the provincial final. In that game, the Expos scored four runs in the seventh inning to overcome an 8-5 deficit, having trailed 7-1 at one point.
The Knights used that as added motivation Thursday, playing in what was the first home game of their rep team baseball careers.
“The boys are excited to play at home in front of their fans and they’re also excited to get some revenge against these guys, because they took us out last year at the provincials and it still stings a bit,” said Knights coach Doug Clark.
“It was nice to get that first win out of the way. They got on the bats right away and stayed on it. Noah always pitches well for us. We know we’re going to get a lot of strikes from him and then he came up and hit a big home run for us late in the game. The boys are fired up. They were all hitting line drives and playing good defence.”
Lank will get his next start Saturday at noon against Ladner and Poitras knows his team will be in good hands with him on the mound.
“Noah, I don’t understand – the kid’s a beast,” said Poitras. “He throws hard. It’s crazy to watch him.”
The Knights return to the field at 9 a.m. today to face the Burnaby Braves, who opened with a 12-10 win over the Ladner Red Sox. The teams have not faced each other since the Knights beat them last year in the provincial semifinal.
The Expos also face Burnaby in their next game today at 5:30 p.m.
Other opening-day scores were: North Langley 12 Layritz 5; Tri-City 14 Surrey 4; North Shore 4 Cloverdale 1; Cowichan Valley 10 Vancouver Vipers 7.
Jace Hamm of the Cowichan Valley Mustangs outslugged Gaboury 10-4 in the final round of the home run derby Thursday night.
Hamm and Gaboury each hit seven over the fence in the preliminary round.
Prince George Jepson Petroleum Knights player Noah Lank hurls a pitch against the Vancouver Expos on Thursday at Nechako Field. It was the first game of the B.C. Minor Baseball Association U15 double-A championships for the hometown Knights.