To this point in the spring, the Cranbrook Bandits have had a tough time getting in games at Confederation Park in Cranbrook, so with an opportunity to play in front of a home crowd, they wanted to take advantage.
The Bandits knocked around the visiting Glacier ‘B’ Twins, scoring 24 runs over two games and claiming victories of 11-9 and 13-3 in American Legion Baseball action Sunday afternoon.
“It feels really good to get the win at home,” said catcher Brandon Ouillette Sunday evening. “The boys played really good. Pitchers did really well. Shayne [Walker], in the first game, chucked a heck of a game and then Thorny [Tyler Thorn] finished it off in [the second] game to get the win.”
With a record of 11-8-1, the Bandits have played 20 games since their season opened May 9 in Libby, but only five contests have been played here in Cranbrook, including Sunday’s doubleheader.
The Bandits rounded the bases plenty of times Sunday afternoon, taking advantage of shaky pitching and costly errors by the Twins scoring 24 runs across the two contests.
“I liked the way we ran the bases,” said head coach Paul Mrazek Sunday evening. “We were aggressive. The kids are really seeing the field a lot better with their eyes and being able to take advantage of other team’s mistakes.
“It’s coming along.”
In the opening game of the doubleheader, rookie right-hander Shayne Walker took to the mound and earned the victory.
The Bandits built a 10-2 advantage before allowing the Twins to claw back into the game. The Bandits finally shut things down in seventh inning to hold on for the 11-9 win.
Early offense was key to the Bandits’ success in both outings Sunday afternoon, as the club jumped out to leads of 7-1 and 7-0 before either game was three innings old.
Devon Marra helped fuel the outburst in the first game, driving home three runs on a standup triple in the bottom of the second inning.
“Usually my approach, when I walk up to the plate, I always think I’m better than the pitcher,” Marra said Sunday. “That’s something I do that works for me. It keeps my confidence up.
“You know you’re going to hit the ball hard. You think that in your head and you just go do it.”
In the back half of the doubleheader, left-handed veteran Tyler Thorn took to the bump, going six innings for the complete-game victory.
“He gets ahead early, pumps fastballs — gets his fastball established — and then he gets his breaking ball going in there,” Mrazek said. “Brandon [Ouillette] calls a good game. They were starting to get on his fastball a little bit on their second and third at-bats. We said, let’s lead the odd guy off with a breaking ball and throw more breaking balls.
“In the second and third inning, [Thorn] had guys way off balance…Brandon and Thorny work real well together.”
Thorn was strong pretty much from start to finish. The only hiccup came in the top of the third inning as the Twins scored three times to get back in the game.
But that’s all the Twins offense was able to muster in the second game as the Bandits used the 10-run mercy rule to take out the visitors 13-3 after six innings of play.
“It’s good for us to get those two wins, especially in front of the home crowd,” Thorn said Sunday. “We’ve had a little bit of a rough patch over the past couple weeks, just not being able to hold a lead.
“It’s good to stick it to a team and get that mercy under our belt. We’ve had a couple leads like that in the past couple weeks and blown them. It’s good for the confidence going into the next couple weeks.”
The catcher-pitcher relationship is an important one in the success of any ball club. Mrazek highlighted it as a key to his club’s 13-3 triumph. According to Thorn, the dynamic between himself and Ouillette is something that came about rather quickly.
“We just understand each other,” Thorn said. “We sort of just meshed together right away because we both like to mess with hitters and we both like to surprise guys, like throwing curveballs with a full count. We do a lot of that.
“We just have a good time up there. When we fool a guy, we’re laughing. We’re having a good time.”
“Me and Thorny have been throwing together for a couple years now,” Ouillette said. “His curveball was on today. Nobody can hit him when he’s like that.”
Thorn did everything required of him on the mound and the run support was there to back him up, leaving little room for the Twins to work back into the backend of the doubleheader.
The Bandits took an 11-3 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning before bringing two more runs across the plate to force the end of the game.
“When we go up to the plate, we’re looking for fastball. We’re hunting fastballs,” Thorn said. “We’re trying to get ourselves in good counts by not swinging at those pitches above our head and in the dirt. When we do [that], we get in those 2-0, 3-1 counts where 95 per cent of the time, you’re going to get a fastball down the middle because they’re trying to catch back up.
“Those 2-0, 3-1 counts, that’s where we got our base hits — line shots into centre field and into the left-centre gap.”
Official scoring and statistics from Sunday’s contests were unavailable prior to print deadline.
The pair of victories pushes the Bandits to 11-8-1 on the season and 3-1-1 at Confederation Park.
Last Saturday, June 6, the Bandits were slated to host the Mission Valley ‘B’ Mariners in a doubleheader, but that game was moved south of the border to Polson, Mont., after a selection of Mariners didn’t have passports ready in time to cross the Canadian border for the games.
Saturday, May 30, the Bandits and Twins took to the diamond in what was supposed to be a doubleheader at Confederation Park, but the day came to an early end after rain held the clubs to a 1-1 tie in only two innings of play.
This Saturday, June 13, the Bandits were scheduled to welcome the Libby Loggers to Cranbrook for another doubleheader, but Saturday morning the Loggers called up Mrazek to say they didn’t have enough healthy players to take the diamond for the doubleheader and the games were cancelled.
The Bandits will look to build upon the recent home success next weekend as they welcome the Glacier ‘A’ Twins to Confederation Park for a doubleheader on Saturday, June 20, beginning at 1 p.m.