The Cranbrook Bandits returned to the Montana State ‘B’ championship for the second consecutive year this past American Legion Baseball season.
Despite falling just short of back-to-back titles after falling to the Bitterroot Red Sox in the league state finale, the Bandits had another successful and memorable campaign that saw the continued development of the program both on and off the field.
Sunday afternoon, the Bandits celebrated that success at the team’s annual awards banquet and barbecue.
“Each year we keep developing and doing more with the game,” Mrazek said to those in attendance Sunday afternoon. “This year we introduced a couple of new things — when we would squeeze we would also be trying to score the runner from second; when other teams weren’t paying attention, we delay steal. These guys really learnt it well.
“These guys did a great job with a lot more advanced stuff than we were doing three years ago. These guys will nod their heads and agree they were doing a lot more things strategically — offensively and defensively.
“That’s why you guys were in the state final again. Unfortunately we didn’t win it this year, but you did a great job getting there.”
Veteran shortstop Devon Marra laid claim the biggest hardware haul, taking home awards as Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year.
“It feels great,” Marra said with a grin splashed across his face. “It’s a great group of kids. We’re all really close friends. [The MVP] is a good award to win overall. I’m going to enjoy it.
“Being a leader, someone that everyone looks up to and playing my role [is what helped me find success this season].”
Marra led the Bandits in a handful of major offensive categories during the 2015 American Legion season, making him a clearcut choice as Offensive Player of the Year.
Leading the team with 47 hits, he also topped the charts with a .416 batting average. His 36 RBI were also most on the squad.
For Marra, it was the second consecutive season he was named the team’s Offensive Player of the Year.
If his work at the plate didn’t hit home the magnitude of his impact, then his consistency off the mound made sure to seal the deal.
The veteran not only spent time in the infield, he also put forth a productive season on the bump, winning four games, registering a 3.33 earned-runs average (ERA) and striking out 53 batters.
On the other side of the ball, Defensive Player of the Year honours were bestowed upon gritty catcher Brandon Ouillette for the second consecutive season.
Ouillette handled the bulk of the catching duties over the course of the season serving as a key factor in the success of the Bandits pitching staff with his confident calls from the behind the plate.
“[He] works his butt off at practice and at games, always running hard,” Mrazek said of Ouillette. “He plays a very difficult position where you get beat up. He doesn’t want to come out of the game, it doesn’t matter how much he gets beat up.”
Though he was recognized for his defensive expertise, Ouillette wasn’t a one-trick pony, hitting a productive .305 and leading the club with 36 runs scored.
While Ouillette was honoured for his work behind the plate, Tyler Thorn was recognized for his craftiness off the mound as he was named Pitcher of the Year.
Arguably the highlight of the season came July 10 in Kalispell when the left-handed hurler threw five innings of no-hit baseball in an 11-0 victory over Priest River.
For Thorn, it was his second consecutive year being named Pitcher of the Year.
Rounding out the crew of award winners was 14-year-old Carson Meggison, who was named Rookie of the Year and Most Dedicated Player.
The young second baseman flourished as the season progressed, finishing the campaign with a .205 batting average and 14 runs scored.
“For a 14-year-old in his first year to hit .200 is great,” Mrazek said of Meggison. “I looked back at first-year players at 14 years old and they’re usually hitting around .100 or .150.
“[He] was consistently hustling and worked hard in the games and at practice.”
Outside of finishing second at the Montana State ‘B’ championship, the Bandits went 20-23-1. In 2014, the team finished the season 20-23 while claiming the Montana State ‘B’ title.
In addition to recognizing award winners, Mrazek was quick to share plenty of positives thoughts and observations on a tight-knit group that contributed to another successful season of Cranbrook Bandits baseball.
“Everyone is best friends with everyone,” Marra said. “We never fight. We always get along. That’s a big part of being a team on the field — being a team off the field.”
For more photos, see Page 2 in Tuesday’s edition of the Cranbrook Daily Townsman