Repeating a championship run is one of the toughest things to do in sport.
Sunday afternoon in Hamilton, Mont., the Cranbrook Bandits came within one game of claiming a second consecutive American Legion State ‘B’ Baseball title, but the bats dried up as the host Bitterroot Red Sox cruised to a 7-0 victory in the championship finale.
In 2014, the Bandits claimed the Montana State ‘B’ title with an 11-5 victory over Medicine Hat.
“There’s no other kid in Cranbrook that’s played [for a state championship],” said Bandits head coach Paul Mrazek on Monday. “They should be pretty proud of themselves even though we lost.
“We hit some balls hard and [the Red Sox defense] made some stellar plays. We didn’t get anything going our way. It was a tough game.
“They did what we do to other teams and they did it more. They bunted like crazy.”
The Bandits finished round-robin play with a 2-1 record and the second seed in their division. The Cranbook boys knocked off the Billings Boltz by a margin of 15-1 on July 16 and edged the Missoula Mavs by a 12-11 final score on July 17. Wedged in between the victories was a 4-3 loss to the Helena Independence in an evening affair on July 16.
Elimination play helped bring out the best in the Bandits, as they opened the playoffs with a 4-0 victory over the Gallitin Valley Posse before edging the Glacier ‘B’ Twins 8-7.
In semifinal action, the Bandits offense showed up in full force to lead the team to a resounding 17-4 victory over the Medicine Hat Majestics.
Yet again, the bats were alive early as the Bandits knocked in eight runs during the top of the first inning.
Outfielder Jake Bromley provided the biggest punch at the plate, bringing home four runs.
Robert Nickell started the game on the bump, but gave up three earned runs in the bottom of the first inning before being replaced by Rylan D’Etcheverrey, who cleaned up and helped provide a shot at a second consecutive Montana State ‘B’ title.
In the championship game, the Bandits offence ran dry, managing five hits and no runs as the Red Sox claimed the Montana State ‘B’ championship.
“We rallied and we exploded [against Medicine Hat]. Everything went our way,” Mrazek said. “In the championship game, we had a few hits here and there, but we didn’t get a string of two, three, four hits together, which made it tough.”
Despite falling short in the championship game, the Bandits put forth a more than respectable performance over the course of the weekend, going 5-2 and finishing second within the 12-team field.
In the 15-1 victory over the Boltz, the Bandits got out front early, knocking in four runs during the first inning of play before blasting home seven runs in the top of the fourth.
Devon Marra fuelled the offense in the 15-1 win, bringing home four runs and scoring three of his own while going 3-for-4 at the plate.
Daniel Mercandelli went the distance on the mound, striking out one batter and walking three others.
In the 4-3 loss to Helena, the Bandits trailed 4-1 heading into the top of the sixth inning, using one-run efforts in the sixth and seventh innings to pull within one, but that’s as close as they managed.
Connor Armstrong took the loss on the mound, going 5.1 innings while issuing five walks and giving up four earned runs.
In Friday’s 12-11 victory over the Missoula Mavs, the Bandits overcame an 11-3 deficit to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Bandits scored three runs in the bottom of the third, four in the bottom of the fourth and two more in the bottom of the fifth inning to complete to the comeback.
With the state tournament in the books, the Bandits finish the 2015 campaign with an overall record of 20-23-1. In 2014, the team registered a mark of 20-23.