After winning three straight at home, the Bandits rolled into the Montana state ‘B’ division championship, going undefeated to clinch the title in five games.
“Not only to win state, but winning the three games at home before we went down there was a big confidence builder and that’s when the bats really started going again,” said Bandits head coach Paul Mrazek.
“I felt confident and I told the kids that the hits are going to start coming again and they definitely did come with 56 hits in five games.”
Fifty six hits in five games translated into 66 runs scored.
Not to shabby on the stats sheet.
The Bandits handily won their first three games of round robin, outscoring the opposition 44-4. One such game featured a 18-run inning with a 20-2 decision over the Gallatin Valley Outlaws, a team that featured a very young roster.
That being said, you couldn’t take any team lightly, Mrazek added.
“Medicine Hat’s beat us before, Helena was close for a while, but it was always in that third, fourth inning where things busted open,” he said.
“Our bats just went nuts. We hat 56 hits in five games. We scored scored 66 runs.”
The Bandits got 10 of those hits in the final game, scoring six runs in the fourth inning on the way to an 11-5 win over the Medicine Hat Majestics to clinch the state championship.
The Cranbrook team was up 2-0 after the third inning, but the Majestics earned four runs at the top of the fourth to take the lead. However, the Bandits roared back with their six run performance to jump ahead.
Devon Marra was getting tired on the pitcher’s mound, which allowed the Majestics to make some hits at the plate and score their runs. Mrazek put in Tyler Thorn to close out the inning who shut down all three Medicine Hat hitters.
Cranbrook went up to bat, and the team delivered.
“We went there and we got some hits, got the bases loaded and Marra hits a triple, and we scored another couple runs after that,” said Mrazek.
“…That helped for the mindset, now it’s 8-4 for us. Connor Armstrong took the mound, he did a great job, he shut them down. We went and got three more runs in the fifth and he [Armstrong] shut them down in the sixth and they scored one in the seventh.”
Cranbrook’s three-run score in the fifth inning increased their lead to 11-4, but Medicine Hat did respond with a single run in the final inning.
“It took a while to get the first out, then after that, there were two pop-ups to [Brandon] Ouilette and he caught them both and that was the story,” said Mrazek. “Game over.
“…The last two innings, we had a good lead and I told the kids it doesn’t matter if someone gets on base, if they score one run—that’s no big deal. Just get an out, get another out and make the routine plays and finish the game.”
Marra had three RBI’s based of his triple, while Caden McCormack also drove three runners home off of two singles. Cedar Kemp also batted home an RBI.
Marra pitched 3.2 innings, with Thorn closing out the last 0.1. Connor Armstrong finished off the rest of the game.
To get into the final, the Bandits had to get by the Helena Senators, which they did by an 11-3 margin. Again, it was a string of hits that started the ball rolling in the third inning.
The Bandits went up 5-2 after the third, and added six more hits over the next three to seal up the win.
“It was a close game with Helena,” said Mrazek. “We had to pull the pitcher and put in Marra and he shut them down. He was throwing 85-86 [mph] and they couldn’t touch it.
“Then our bats came alive again.”
Cranbrook got through the round robin stage with a 12-2 defeat of Bitterroot, a 20-2 win over Gallatin Valley and a 12-0 shutout of the Majestics.
The Bandits finished the season with a 20-23 record, a big improvement of 11-22 last year and their winningest record since Mrazek took over head coaching duties in 2007.