The Cranbrook Bandits ‘A’ team ended Polson, Montana’s annual ‘Firecracker Tournament’ with a bang and took home fifth-place out of eight teams.
The competition, which runs from Canada Day to Independence Day, was the Bandits last non-league play of the year and bolstered their confidence heading into a busy ending to their season.
Although they got off to a slow start, falling 9-2 to the Glacier Twins and 9-0 to the Dillon Cubs, they ended the weekend with a 12-6 win against the Mission Valley Mariners ‘A’ team and an 8-5 win against their ‘B’ team.
The victories against the home squads were an enormous accomplishment in the eyes of head coach Paul Mrazek.
“We haven’t beat [the Mariners A team] in my time here so it was great to turn it around and get a win,” he said. “We’re implementing some different things [that] we haven’t done this year offensive-wise to get ready for districts [which] was good.”
The Bandits biggest highlight was a huge second inning on Monday against the Mission Valley ‘A’ squad, in which they drove in nine runs.
Scoring on a couple of errors, a single by Quinn Grist, a walk by Tatsuki Ishihara, a single by Rylan D’Etcheverrey, a walk by Brandon Thorn, and a double by Ryley Ducharme, the early lead ended up being insurmountable.
“We jumped on them [and] got on base [by] hitting the ball and putting it on the ground,” Mrazek said. “Offensively we were aggressive and they got back on their heels and had some free passes and everything exploded on them.”
On Tuesday morning, with fifth-place on the line, the Bandits managed to keep their composure and beat the Mariners ‘B’ team at the very end of a back-and-forth game.
Trailing 4-5 heading into the sixth inning — the last one of the game due to time constraints — the Bandits showed grit in their finish against the ‘B’ Mariners.
“We let them back [in the game], had one tough inning, [and] they took the lead,” Mrazek explained. “I said to the guys, we need one run to tie it up or it’s over. They did it [and then] they rallied and got three more.”
Parker Thomson got the party started from the first at-bat and singled on a ground ball. A pair of walks advanced him to third and he scored after Brandon Thorn was hit by a pitch.
Robert Nickell then singled to drive in another run, Grist was walked to score another run and Cedar Kemp was hit by a pitch to complete the four-run swing.
The Bandits defence then quickly took care of the rest with three quick outs in the bottom of the sixth.
Overall, Cranbrook’s success was the result of a balanced lineup with everyone on the roster contributing. The Bandits had 20 hits over the course of the four games from 10 different players.
“Right now, everyone’s hitting the ball which is great,” Mrazek said. “We played a lot of players, a lot of the rookies and [our] juniors got more time. We [also] pitched a lot of people [because] I wanted them all to get innings to get ready for the next three weekends.”
12 players shared the Bandits pitching duties for the tournament with D’Etcheverrey and Ishihara earning wins.
“[We played] more guys with fewer innings [so] teams hopefully wouldn’t see the same pitcher three times in a row,” Mrazek said. “It’s tougher for them to get their timing down and I think that was a good thing this weekend.
“It also kept the arms fresh with all the games that we have left.”
The Bandits ‘A’ team now have a stretch of twelve games in ten days beginning on Friday, July 7 to end their American Legion Montana League season.
The top eight of nine teams in the Class ‘A’ West District Conference will qualify for the district playoffs in Whitefish, Montana beginning on July 19. The Bandits are currently in seventh place with a 3-5 record.