Bandits infielder Kei Chlopan (#13) tries to evade a tag at home plate as Tyler Thorn (#4) watches on during American Legion Baseball action at Confederation Park earlier this summer.

Diamond days of summer

Cranbrook Bandits prepare for Lewistown Invitational following weekend defeats in American Legion Baseball action

On the road in Kalispell this past weekend, the Cranbrook Bandits may not have found the results they were looking for, but that doesn’t mean head coach Paul Mrazek was unhappy with the battle and resolve of his club.

South of the border for four contests, the Bandits (17-18-1) went 1-3-0 over the weekend’s affairs. Opening with a nail-biting victory over the Edmonton Cardinals, the Bandits then went on to drop decisions to the Walla Walla Bruins, Kalispell Lakers and the Vauxhall Spurs to close the weekend.

“We’re battling, coming back and we’re playing tough against good teams,” Mrazek said Tuesday.

“I think we’re peaking at the right time. We need to clean things up defensively and I think we’ve played tighter defensively. We’ve played better with these better teams. We need to keep the pressure on and keep playing the way we’ve been playing.”

Bandits veteran lefty Tyler Thorn grounded the Cardinals early, retiring 14 consecutive hitters while the Cranbrook offense went to work securing a five-run advantage through four innings of play.

The top of the fifth inning rolled around and with two outs on the board, the Cardinals went to work, rattling off four runs to pull within one.

“They finally got a hit, next thing you know there’s walks and [Thorn] had to settle down,” Mrazek said. “We had a 5-0 lead, scored early, built up a lead and [Thorn] was cruising along. They got a base hit, some errors and some walks… It ended up being a tight game.”

Thorn was pulled from the game after 4.2 innings in which he struck out seven  batters, allowing only two hits and one earned run. From there, Carson Meggison came on in relief, going 2.1 innings strong, allowing one hit and no earned runs to claim the save, preserving the 5-4 victory for his starter.

Taylor Jones went the distance for the Cardinals, striking out six batters and walking three, while scattering eight hits en route to allowing five runs (three allowed).

From there, a lack of teeth in quality scoring opportunities did the Bandits in over a pair of one-run defeats.

“There were a few scoring opportunities where we left guys stranded,” Mrazek said. “We’ve talked about that as a team. We’ve got to take that opportunity. When you’ve got zero or one out and we’ve got that guy on third [base], we’ve got to cash him in.

“We had some bunt situations and guys trying to do too much. We’ve talked about it and I’ve tried to make sure they’re clear on what their job is in different situations.”

In an 11-10 loss at the hands of the Kalispell Lakers, the Bandits had the tying run in scoring position on third base with only one out on the board, but were unable to bring Robert Nickell home to knot the affair as Thorn and Noah Rennette grounded out to end the contest.

Despite allowing seven runs (five earned) over only two innings of play, Drew Fink claimed the win for the Lakers, while Eric Seaman came on for the remaining four innings to register the save.

A total of four Bandits pitchers took to the mound over the course of a rainy shootout. Brandon Thorn started the game and was saddle with the loss, allowing six runs (five earned) through 0.1 innings. From there, Hayden Mastel (one inning), Nickell (one inning) and Greg Rebagliati (2.2) all saw time on the bump.

In yet another one-run loss, this time a 10-9 decision against Vauxhall on Sunday, the Bandits pushed the tying run to third base with only one out on the board, but again were unable to bring it home to force extra innings.

A 6-3 loss to the Bruins was tightly contested from start to finish, with one poor inning costing the Bandits.

With a 2-1 lead heading into the top of the seventh inning, the Bruins knocked in four runs to take a commanding 6-1 advantage into the bottom of the inning. Try as they might, the Bandits managed to get a pair of runs on the board to make it a 6-3 game, before Linden Meggison flew out to bring the comeback bid to an end.

“We had one bad inning and they’re a good team,” Mrazek said. “They’re a solid team and we played very well against them. It was a good outing, so I’m happy about how we performed.

Dan Mercandelli took the loss on the mound, but not before going 6.2 innings and striking out three.

Sitting one game below .500, the Bandits will travel to Lewistown, Mont., for the Lewistown Invitational for a handful of games beginning Thursday, intent on getting back to an even plateau.

The team will close out its summer schedule in Calgary, with a trio of exhibition games slated for July 22 to 24.