The temperature reached above 35 C at Confederation Park on Tuesday afternoon, but emotions ran even hotter in the dugouts.
Playing a doubleheader against the Kalispell Lakers, the Cranbrook Bandits Senior ‘A’ baseball team engaged in a pair of testy battles while ultimately losing 9-5 and 9-6. Throughout the course of the game, the umpires tossed four people including both Bandits coaches.
After blowing an early 4-0 first-inning lead in the first game, the Bandits were tied at five apiece in the fifth inning when pitcher Brandon Thorn was discovered to have exceeded his allowed pitch count for a single game. Due to the error, Thorn was ejected for the rest of the game while head coach Paul Mrazek was forced to leave for the rest of the afternoon.
Soon after, assistant coach Bill Hughes was also ejected by the base umpire for arguing a call at first base and had to be replaced by ‘B’ team assistant coach Tyler Thorn.
Adding further drama, while tied 6-6 in the top of the sixth inning, the Lakers hit a home run and celebrated in a manner that caught the nerve of the Cranbrook players. In addition to adding three runs and eventually winning the game for the visitors, the banter between the Bandits and the Kalispell dugout earned a stern warning from the umpire.
“[In] the first game we got off to a good start [but] they’re a good hitting team and kept chipping away,” said coach Hughes. “We had a guy picked off at first base and then a lot of stuff happened that created some interesting scenarios for us. We didn’t stick out heads in the sand [though] and just kept battling away.
“We had chances to come back and just didn’t get the job done. We threw a few fastballs across the plate and they hit [one] out of the park, which is what happens when you do that.”
In the second game of the afternoon, the Bandits fell asleep in the first and got down 7-0 before even getting their first chance to bat. While the team managed to respond and outscored Kalispell 5-2 the rest of the way, it wasn’t enough.
Keeping the teams in check also became an issue once again in game two, with several warnings being issued to both dugouts and an ejection finally being handed to a Lakers player in order to settle things down.
Overall, while the Bandits didn’t get the results that the wanted, Hughes said that the team made some significant strides.
“Overall, I think we played well even though the score doesn’t show the effort,” he said. “ I was really proud of the way the guys rallied, they didn’t get down, they didn’t whine or cry or sulk. They just sucked it up and played good baseball.”
Now at 5-9 this season, the Bandits have improved mighty from their inaugural ‘A’ division season last year in which they didn’t win a conference game until the District tournament.
“We’ve been working on the mental aspect of the game, which is an incredibly big part of baseball,” Hughes said. “Not getting down when things are not going your way and also focusing [even] if games might see long and draw out and boring, but there’s a lot going on.
“That’s helped us be much more aware and [we’ve] got the mindset of ‘please hit the ball to me’ and what that does is make sure they’re prepared and we saw that [with] some great plays. [Our guys] made some great catches and diving catches, sort of Kevin Pillar [type plays].”
Robert Nickell led the team in hits for the afternoon with four and tied for RBIs with two, which was matched by Ryley Ducharme. Thorn, Quinn Grist, Carson Meggison, Greg Rebagliati, Hayden Mastel and Parker Thomson all pitched throughout the two games.
After a four-game losing weekend against the Glacier Twins, the Bandits continue their busy year-ending stretch on Wednesday afternoon against the Libby Loggers before wrapping up the regular season against the Missoula Mavericks on Saturday.
The Loggers are coming to town as the bottom-feeders of the West ‘A’ Division with a 3-11 record, while the Bandits are in 5th place. In their last meeting, Cranbrook swept a doubleheader against Libby on the road.
Wednesday’s action kicks off at 2 p.m. at Confederation Park with back-to-back games taking place.