The Cranbrook Bandits weren’t able to cash in enough runs over the weekend to win the Big Bucks tournament, but they came home rich in experience.
Facing off against non-conference opponents in Libby, Montana, the Senior ‘A’ American Legion squad fell just short of a spot in the tourney’s consolation game after finishing with a 2-1 record. According to assistant coach Bill Hughes, however, the team made some big strides.
“It was a good test to see how we stand up against some extremely good teams. I thought we did really, really well and we’ve learned about our strengths and about areas that we really need to focus on,” Hughes said of the weekend. “The mental areas of the game have become very positive for us… they’ve really [improved in that area] and see how important that is to do, not only for themselves but for the team.”
The Bandits kicked off the weekend on Thursday with a pre-tournament exhibition game against the Walla Walla Griz and were dealt an 8-0 loss. The Griz got off to an early four-run lead and Cranbrook wasn’t able to recover.
“[They] were very good but they were beatable for us,” Hughes said. “We knew that it didn’t count for the tournament [though] so we were more thinking about the next three games.”
On Friday, the Bandits faced their first tournament competition with a game against the Moscow Blue Devils. Although it was a back-and-forth game, the Idaho squad ended up capitalizing on errors to earn an 8-4 win.
“The odd error tends to cost us runs and that’s what happened,” Hughes said.”Early in the game, we were up 2-0 but then we made a few errors and they eventually came back and beat us.”
Dan Mercandelli took the loss for the Bandits as the pitcher for three innings, while Tanner McLean, Quinn Grist, Parker Thomson, and Greg Rebagliati all had one hit to power their side offensively.
By Saturday, the Bandits found themselves playing a much more composed game against the then-unbeaten Strathmore Reds. Having scouted them beforehand, Cranbrook managed to pull off a 14-3 in an amazing display according to Hughes.
“We got some great performances pitching and hitting [and] defensively,” the coach explained. “We really came out like gangbusters and I think it’s the best game I’ve seen us play as a team. We hit the ball extremely well, but we played as a team and we really played for each other and that’s one of the biggest differences.”
On Sunday, the Bandits had a chance to make it into the consolation third-place game with a win and a good run differential, which translated into a hard-fought outing. Facing the Sandpoint Lakers, Cranbrook made a dramatic comeback to win 12-11.
“It was our fourth game in four days, so we were getting a little tired and beat up. We had some injuries and sicknesses on the team but everybody pulled together and played hard for each other,” Hughes said. “We played extremely well, we came back and tied it at the top of the sixth and then we shut them down. [Then] at the top of the seventh we scored five runs.
“Every player on the team contributed to that.”
Unfortunately, several teams finished with a 2-1 record and the Bandits run differential wasn’t high enough to earn them another game. Nevertheless, Hughes said that the weekend bodes well for the rest of the year.
“I think the key to our growing success this year is that the players have developed a mantra of ‘team first’,” he said. “Everything they do, they do for each other as a team. Individual performances are really highly respected by all the players, but the most important thing is that everything the players do is for the team and for each other.
“That is very powerful. Our record this year is pretty good, we’ve lost some games that we really feel we should have won, so it looks very positive going forward.”
The Bandits next action is a home exhibition game against Spokane’s Ferris High School Saxons at home on Tuesday, July 3. While the team was originally scheduled to play at a tournament in Polson, Montana this upcoming weekend, they had to pull out due to local high school graduation events.
The Bandits Junior ‘B’ team, however, will play over the weekend in Cranbrook at Confederation Park on Saturday and Sunday with games against the Mission Valley Rockies and Clark Fork Cougars.