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Red Deer Riggers to field more youthful team this season

Two weeks until the season starts
Red Deer Riggers pitcher Kai Poffenroth closes out a 5-0 victory over the Edmonton Padres last season at Gulls Stadium. (Photo by Ian Gustafson/ Advocate staff)

With just two weeks to go until the beginning of the Sunburst League season, the Red Deer Riggers are rounding into form.

Compared to last season the Riggers will look a lot different. After hosting the 2023 Men’s Senior AAA National Championship last August, the Riggers had a few veteran players retire making room for some new faces.

Red Deer Riggers manager Jaret Chatwood said he’s excited to get started.

“We’re going to be a little bit younger and our game might change a bit. We’re probably going to rely a little bit more on speed and we have some power guys coming back,” he said.

“Our pitching I think will be good. We have a lot of new arms coming and we have some pretty big arms returning for us too. I think we’re better this year than we were last year so we’re in a good spot.”

The Riggers saw pitcher Davin Gulbransen hang up his cleats after a 30-year pitching career. Jason Louis also retired and three others are currently pondering their future.

Among some of the new faces include former Sylvan Lake Gulls fan favourite Tyler McWillie. After wrapping up his final season with the Gulls of the Western Canadian Baseball League in 2023, McWillie suited up for a brief stint with the Riggers during nationals.

In the fall, the Watrous, Sask. native decided to make Red Deer his home taking a job as a teacher while also coaching minor baseball. During his playing career, he developed into not only a reliable pitcher but also a power hitter at the plate.

Red Deer’s own Jared Arnold will also join the Riggers after two seasons with the Gulls.

The right-handed pitcher played college ball for the University of Mary Marauders in North Dakota during the season and came home in the summer to play in Sylvan Lake.

The Riggers will also field a few former U18 AAA Red Deer CarStar Braves including Matthew Murray and Gavin Galenza who will also play with the Gulls this season.

Chatwood explained this is possible through a Sunburst League rule change that now allows players to play in both leagues as long as they hit the minimum requirement of games for the Riggers.

They will also welcome Ryley Doig who previously played a handful of games with the Riggers during the U18 AAA Braves season.

Last season was a bit of a disappointment for the Riggers who fell to the Calgary Rockies in a best-of-three series in the league semifinals.

After winning Game 1, the Riggers dropped two straight including Game 3 at home to lose the series.

The Riggers then hosted the best senior AAA teams from across Canada at nationals in August.

From opening day on Thursday, Aug. 24 throughout the four-day tournament, the Riggers went 1-3 against the competition missing the quarterfinals.

“Last year was a little disappointing in playoffs and nationals. We might have peaked a little early. We got first place in the league and then lost in the first round of playoffs,” Chatwood said.

“Calgary played really well against us so we’re hoping to get back into playoffs again this season.”

In 2023, Calgary joined the Sunburst League before the season with two new teams. The Rockies, who nearly won the league title, and the Diamondbacks.

“I know both Calgary teams have added a lot of new players and some quality talent. It’ll be tough but I think we’re ready to go. It’ll be fun.”

The Riggers season officially kicks off on Friday, May 10 on the road against the Rockies. Their home opener is set for the following Tuesday, May 14 against the Edmonton Cubs at Gulls Stadium in Sylvan Lake.

This season they’ll play five of their nine home games at Gulls Stadium not including their home tournament which will take place from July 19-21. The rest will be played at Great Chief Park.

Also for the first time, the Riggers will face the Gulls in an exhibition game on Thursday, May 23 at Gulls Stadium. Tickets for the game are now available and start at $5 per person.

“It’ll be exciting for us and I think it’ll be really special for those Gulls players who’ve aged out to come back and compete again,” he said.

“We’re going to try our hardest to win. They’re a very strong team and we’re not going to go down without a fight. We’re pretty excited for that one.”

Ian Gustafson

About the Author: Ian Gustafson

Ian began his journalism career as a reporter in Prince Albert, Sask. for the last three years, and was born and raised in Saskatchewan.
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