They knew that it wouldn’t be easy, but the Cranbrook Bandits ‘A’ team fought hard all weekend.
Playing in the Class ‘A’ West District Montana League American Legion championships for the first time, the Bandits won a consolation game to upgrade their regular season finish.
Cranbrook entered the tournament, which was held in Whitefish, as the eighth seed of eight teams. Their low ranking forced an opening round game on Thursday against the top-seeded Bitterroot Red Sox who handily earned an 8-2 win.
In the consolation round against the Libby Loggers on Friday, the Bandits built up an 8-0 lead after five innings, lost it by the seventh, and then earned a dramatic 10-8 victory during an extra-inning.
In the fifth-place game on Saturday, the host Glacier Twins outlasted the Bandits and won 16-6 to end their season.
“We went in [as] the last spot [team] so overall we played well and I was happy,” said head coach Paul Mrazek. “I got a lot of compliments on how we stayed in the games as long as we could and fought.”
While it was a challenging year for Cranbrook, who made the jump to an ‘A’ class team and had a 3-19 record in the regular season, Mrazek felt that the team made a positive statement at the tournament.
“All these strong teams saw that our team battles and we compete and it was great for [us] to get that experience playing in the district tournament against good teams,” he said. “It puts us into a good position going into next year.”
The win against Libby was a big highlight, especially after losing twice at home to the Loggers to end the regular season, and having such a dramatic finish.
“[We were] cruising along and the next thing you know they have the big inning and tied it up,” Mrazek said. “[Libby] did a good job once they had guys on base and they moved people along well.
“We were trying to get out of [the seventh inning] and brought Carson Meggison in to close. It took him awhile to get going [but] it was great to see the kids focus like that and get it done.”
Mrazek was pleased with his lineup and was especially enthused with the pitching of Dan Mercandelli in their game against the Red Sox and Brandon Thorn’s win against the Loggers.
Although their bid for an improbable Cinderella run to the State championships ended on Thursday, the coach drew a lot of positives.
“We took a game from Kalispell [earlier this year] and they went 3-0 and played in the final,” Mrazek said. “We were right in there for a lot of innings against some really good teams.”
With the tournament complete, the Bandits will have a banquet and awards event before calling it a summer. Four players — Jake Bromley, Rylan D’Etcheverrey, Cedar Kemp and Linden Meggison — have all aged out of the program.
Bromley has already committed to Kamloops’ Thompson Rivers University Wolf Pack program, D’Etcheverrey has signed a letter of intent to join North Dakota’s Lake Region State College Royals, and Meggison is still in talks for his future program.
Speaking of the players who are graduating from the team, Mrazek said he holds them in great regard.
“They’ve all been a big part of the program and I’ve seen them develop a lot and it’s great to see that they’re interested in playing longer,” he said. “The biggest thing [though] is that they’re going to university [and] getting their education.”
The Bitterroot Red Sox ended up winning the District tournament after a 3-0 win on Sunday over the Kalispell Lakers. Both teams have advanced to the State tournament which will take place in Three Forks beginning on Thursday.