The Lethbridge Bulls are back on the diamond, looking to continue their winning ways from late last summer.
After finishing the regular season just below .500, the Bulls went a perfect 4-0 in the playoffs, securing a WCBL championship. The team’s returning players are ready to build on that success.
“Just try to carry over the same expectations as last year,” said pitcher Max Benton, a member of that 2021 championship team. “(We) won it last year, (there) should be no other thought this year than: defend the title.”
“Gold standard,” he said, quoting the slogan on the shirts players were wearing at practice.
But this year’s campaign will look much different than in 2021.
The league has grown from five teams to 11, fans will be able to pack stadiums again without restrictions and clubs will play a longer schedule.
“Take it a day at a time,” head coach Chance Wheatley said. “We’re not going to put any pressure on ourselves that we have to repeat or anything like that.”
“Take it one game at a time and things will take care of itself.”
Another difference this year is Americans north of the border.
A member of the 2019 Bulls, Henderson, NV native Roger Riley hit .333 for that team. He’s excited about his return to Lethbridge.
“We’ve got a title to protect. I’m eager to contribute in any way I can,” the Regis University athlete said.
“I know for myself, in playoffs at my college, it didn’t go the way I quite wanted it to, but I want to change the narrative here.”
Wheatley hasn’t had a long look at his squad yet, but he’s counting on the team’s bats to be a strength.
“I think we’ll be a pretty deep team offensively,” Wheatley said. “Hopefully we can pitch it enough to stay in games, but we should be able to hit pretty good.”
The Bulls’ first test comes against the Sylvan Lake Gulls, a team they beat on the way to their 2021 championship.
“It’s probably the biggest series, in my opinion,” Benton said. “One of the top teams coming into this year with high expectations, so to start it off right with a series win would be huge.”
The season opener is Thursday at Spitz Stadium, beginning with a pre-game ceremony honouring umpire Mitch Ball, who passed away in 2021.