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Bantam Chuckers living up to early season hype

Baseball team off to 12-4 start in league play with this weekend's Victoria Day Tournament providing a big test

One thing is for certain about this weekend's Richmond City Baseball Victoria Day Bantam AAA Tournament. The host team won't be sneaking up on anyone.

A year ago, the Richmond Chuckers loaded up their line-up with youth and still battled their way to a berth in the provincial championships. Now, with seven returning players, the expectations are much higher and the U15 rep team has a bullseye on its back.

"The dynamics have really changed," admitted longtime coach Alex Klenman. "Last year we kind of snuck under the radar and got a bunch Ty of wins. Now everyone expects us to be better and are excited to play us. It's an adjustment the kids have had to make."

So far the Chuckers have lived up to the early season hype. They take a 12-4 record into this weekend's tournament that features 12 teams including three other league powerhouses - Vancouver (10-3), Abbotsford (9-3) and Cloverdale (9-3) - along with the Okotoks Red Dawgs, an elite traveling team from Alberta.

"All the big teams will be here except for Tri-City and Okotoks will have many of the top Grade 9 players in Alberta as there are no (player boundaries) for their program," said Klenman whose team begins play Friday (5: 30 p.m.) against White Rock before facing Okanagan Saturday (11: 30 a.m.).

The Chuckers are led on the mound by right-hander Tyler Hoefer. Klenman received a huge endorsement for his program when the 6foot-1 right-hander opted to stay in Richmond for his second-year at the Bantam level rather than make the jump to his hometown North Delta Blue Jays' premier junior team.

oefer So far Hoefer has been lights out with 77 strikeouts in 53 innings pitched and a paltry 0.91 ERA. He also has outstanding control, issuing just eight walks to date. When he's not on the mound, he plays shortstop and is among the team's top hitters with a .435 batting average and 15 RBI.

Spencer Rankin and Mitchell Rennie have also been big producers at the plate thus far. Rankin has a team best 23 RBI to go along with his .459 average. Rennie has three home runs and is batting .455.

"Spencer is our emotional leader and a real fireplug," said Klenman. "Mitchell has a long swing and a lot of power."

First-year Catcher Noah Or's off-season work has paid off in a big way thus far. He leads the team with a .585 batting average and a .785 slugging percentage.

"He is exceeding expectations across the board," said Klenman "Noah worked very hard to perfect his swing, and he is one of the better hitters in the league already."

Klenman has been coaching baseball for 22 seasons, including nine at the Bantam AAA level. He figures this current group represents the best chance of going to nationals since 2008 when Richmond won the regular season pennant but stumbled out of the gate at provincials and eventually bowed out in the semi-finals.

"It's as a good of shot as we have had since then. We were fortunate to get all seven of our first-years back," he added.

Klenman will found out more about his team's destiny this weekend.

All games take place at Blundell Field with the final slated for Monday afternoon.

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