With the mercury rising in the East Kootenay and the bats of the Cranbrook Bandits (7-4-0) absolutely on fire, one might wonder if there is a sudden correlation between the two.
As record temperatures teased across the region, Cranbrook’s boys of summer did their part to heat up the Kootenays, scorching opponents for 42 runs over four games en route to three American Legion Baseball victories at Butler Park in Trail this past weekend.
After being blanked 6-0 by the Trail Orioles to open the mini tournament, the Bandits’ bats lit up the diamond, burning Spokane’s North Central Indians twice, by scores of 13-3 and 11-1, before exacting revenge on the Orioles with an 18-7 triumph.
“We got better every game,” said Paul Mrazek, head coach of the Bandits, Monday morning. “That’s our goal — every weekend, get a little bit better and understand the game a bit better in different situations. [We’re] trying to get people comfortable. It’s not comfortable being in a situation you haven’t been in before and there are a lot of different things that can happen in baseball.
“I’m happy with the level of understanding of what’s important in different situations — we’re getting better at that. We’re hitting the ball fairly well and we’re minimizing the errors.”
On the mound, Kei Chlopan went five innings deep, striking out six and allowing only two earned runs as he powered the Bandits to a 13-3 win over the Indians Saturday afternoon.
Battling to a 3-3 draw through four innings, the Bandits took a 5-3 lead in the top of the fifth inning before the bats exploded for a half dozen runs in the top of the sixth to put the game out of reach.
At the dish, Tyler Thorn led the productivity with three hits and two runs scored, while Sho Kanzaki registered a pair of RBI.
After falling in Saturday’s opener to the Orioles, the Bandits were out for revenge in a Sunday morning rematch with their Trail rivals.
Thorn tossed five effective innings, striking out four batters while allowing six earned runs on six hits to earn the win.
Outfielder Jake Bromley went 3-for-5 at the plate, knocking in two RBI and scoring three times himself as the Bandits offense provided more than enough run support en route to an 18-7 mercy win over the Orioles.
According to Mrazek, this is only the second time in program history that the Bandits have managed to knock off the Orioles, making the big win a notable accomplishment.
“Any weekend that we beat Trail is a great weekend,” said Mrazek, who previously spent the better part of six years involved in Trail baseball before coming to Cranbrook. “This was the second time we beat Trail in my 10 years here [in Cranbrook].”
Infielder Robert Nickell and outfielder Cedar Kemp both contributed to the offensive outburst for the Bandits, cranking three RBIs each.
Knotted at 5-5 through four innings, the Bandits pulled away with a three-run effort in the top of the fifth before piling on with 10 runs in the top of the sixth to put the contest out of reach.
Wrapping up the weekend Sunday afternoon, the Bandits lay another beating on the Indians as Dan Mercandelli fired six innings of one-run ball (zero earned) with four strikeouts to guide his squad to an 11-1 triumph.
The offense was lively once again, as the Bandits tacked six runs up on the scoreboard before the Indians broke their own goose egg in the top of the sixth inning. A five-run outburst in the bottom of the sixth inning put the finishing touches on another successful weekend for Mrazek’s charges.
Infielder Linden Meggison and outfielder Caden McCormack tallied three RBI each, while Nickell came across home plate three times himself.
Having jumped out to a 7-4-0 start thus far in the American Legion Baseball campaign, the Bandits have notched 98 runs, averaging nearly nine (8.91) per outing, while holding opponents to 5.36 per game (59 runs). That’s a pretty good recipe for success considering the Bandits have yet to reach the quarter mark of the campaign.
“We had quite a few extra-base hits and we’re working on understanding pitch counts, what to expect on different pitch counts and how to set yourself up so that you can get more fastballs,” Mrazek said of his team’s offensive prowess to this point in the season. “As a hitter, if you can avoid swinging at balls and helping that [pitcher] — stop swinging at something in the dirt, stop swinging at something in your letters… That understanding of how to set yourself up to get more fastballs so that you can be more successful and you can be more confident, I think our players are getting a better understanding of that.”
In all, the Bandits collected five extra-base hits over the four-game weekend, with Bromley striking for two, including a triple in Saturday’s 13-3 win over the Indians. The Bandits 18-7 win over the Orioles featured a pair of doubles courtesy Thorn and Bromley.
While the offense is chugging along nicely, the Bandits getting things done on the defensive side of the game as well.
“We pitched well and made most of the plays,” Mrazek said. “That’s all we can ask for.
“We’ve got four goals with the team this year. One is to throw strikes because if pitchers don’t throw strikes, the ball is not going to be hit and the defense can’t do any work. There’s nothing we can do if we walk people… Two is make the routine plays on defense. Three — hit the ball on the ground. Four — don’t strike out looking. That’s it. If we can do that, we’ll be okay.”
After a four-game jaunt in Trail, the Bandits return home for four games at Confederation Park this weekend. Saturday, the Glacier Twins visit from Whitefish, Mont., for a doubleheader slated to begin at 1 p.m. Sunday, it’s the Kalispell Lakers paying a visit to Cranbrook, with a doubleheader getting underway at 1 p.m.