The outcomes may not have been what they were looking for, but the Cranbrook Bandits proved they can play with the sluggers from the ‘A’ class of American Legion Baseball in Montana.
The Bandits hosted the defending Montana State ‘A’ champion Glacier Twins in a doubleheader at Confederation Park Saturday afternoon, falling 6-1 and 8-4. The pair of losses drops the Bandits to 11-10-1 on the season.
“What’s promising is they won state and they went to regionals,” said Bandits head coach Paul Mrazek Saturday evening. “We hung in there for the most part.
“Everyone has good days and bad days. If we play the game right we can play with anybody. That’s what I tell the kids.
“Game one, we had one hit and you’re not going to beat anybody when you’ve only got one hit in a game. We saw them swinging better in game two, but we’re still not aggressive enough at the plate. There are too many guys waiting until two strikes before they take a hack. We’ve got to clean that up and be more aggressive at the plate and we’ve got to tighten up defensively.”
In the opening game of the doubleheader, left-handed pitcher Tyler Thorn (1-2, 2.63 ERA) took to the bump, throwing 97 pitches and striking out two before being pulled from the game after four innings of work.
“It was a mix of our hitting and defence today,” Thorn said Saturday. “We just didn’t hit the ball enough and we missed some routine plays that need to be made.
“When a pitcher goes up there and he’s pumping strikes and getting routine ground balls and fly balls, to see those routine plays go by a guy, those pitches add up. That hurt the arms today.”
Right-hander Rylan D’Etcheverrey came on in relief for three innings of work, striking out one batter with no earned runs.
Outside of the pitching performances in the opener, there wasn’t much to speak of on the Bandits side of the ballgame.
Catcher Brandon Ouillette (.245/.409/.265) registered the lone hit and outfielder Connor Armstrong (.200/.353/.291) tallied the solitary run as the Bandits struggled at the plate.
“This team is a little different than the competition we’ve faced in the past little while — an ‘A’ team, a state-champion ‘A’ team — so they’ve got some guys that can throw gas,” Thorn said. “That was our biggest struggle — the change from seeing the slower speed to the faster speed. A lot of us were behind.”
For the Twins, they stacked up two runs in the first inning and efficiently added to their lead as the game wore on, scoring one run in each inning from the second through fifth.
Right-hander Austin Robins claimed the win for the Twins, going six innings strong and striking out 10 batters.
In back half of the doubleheader, the Twins once again got off to a quick start, scoring two runs in the first inning, despite good work from right-hander Brendan Bird (0-2, 5.25 ERA).
Bird lasted 4.1 innings striking out one before giving way to reliever Daniel Mercandelli who finished 2.2 innings with one strikeout as well.
“We pitched well in both games. Thorny came out, he pitched well but didn’t get the support early,” Mrazek said.
“Birdie threw well. They came out swinging. They were hitting the ball hard and generated a couple runs, but they weren’t killing us.”
Shortstop Devon Marra kickstarted the Bandits offense in the bottom of the third inning, blasting a solo home run out of Confederation Park to cut the Twins lead to 3-1.
A three-run fifth inning restored the Twins sizeable lead for a short period, but a run-scoring single by Marra in the bottom of the fifth helped bring the Bandits bats back to life as they tallied three runs to make it a 6-4 ballgame.
At the end of the day, the Twins simply had a little more in the bats than the hosts, as the visitors added another two runs in the top of the seventh inning to seal the win.
Jesse Walburn earned the victory on the mound for the Twins, throwing four innings and striking out six batters.
Despite the results, there was plenty to be learned for the Bandits from Saturday’s contests.
“The only way you get better is by playing a tough crowd,” Thorn said. “If you’re the top dog then there’s no learning curves to get past. If it was easy, we wouldn’t really be taking it as serious.
“Playing an ‘A’ team opened our eyes that we aren’t the best and we have to play the best game that we can every day. We can’t just assume we’re going to stomp a team.”
Following Saturday’s outings, the Bandits travelled to Polson, Mont., for back-to-back games against the Mission Valley ‘B’ Mariners and Mission Valley ‘A’ Mariners Sunday afternoon. Results were unavailable by print deadline.
Next up, the Bandits travel to Libby, Mont., for tournament action June 25 through 28.