Cranbrook Bandits ‘A’ team player Robert Nickell prepares for a pitch during the team’s game against the Libby Loggers at Confederation Park on July 14, 2017. (Brad McLeod Photo)

Cranbrook Bandits ‘A’ team player Robert Nickell prepares for a pitch during the team’s game against the Libby Loggers at Confederation Park on July 14, 2017. (Brad McLeod Photo)

Cranbrook Bandits ‘A’ team to face Bitterroot Red Sox at district tournament

Baseball team loses final regular season doubleheader to Libby Loggers, enter playoffs in last place

They came so close to ending the season on a winning note, but the Cranbrook Bandits ‘A’ team’s year isn’t over yet.

In their final conference games before the postseason, the Bandits lost twice to the Libby Loggers on their home field on Saturday.

It was their tenth straight loss and ended their year with a 3-19 record and the eighth and final spot in the American Legion Montana League Class A West District.

Despite the disappointing final home game scores, it was not a dull ending to their regular season.

Down 10-3 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, the Bandits rallied with six runs to make it a 10-9 game. Unfortunately, after three quick outs at the top of the seventh, the Loggers held their ground and won the game.

Previously that afternoon, Libby beat Cranbrook 17-5.

“I wish we had pulled out a couple of wins,” said head coach Paul Mrazek. “We really just have to clean up a couple of those bad innings.”

Throughout the doubleheader, the Bandits kept the Loggers from scoring in six of 12 innings but also had debilitating defensive lapses with Libby putting up eight runs in the fourth inning of game one and six in the second inning of game two.

“Our players need to be more confident in themselves and realize that they can play,” Mrazek said. “The first couple of innings were tight [and] we were playing good baseball, [but] we can’t have things compound.

“You can’t follow a walk with an error. You really have to minimize the damage and get an out when you can.”

Despite the poor results and rough overall record, thanks to the midseason disbanding of the Kootenai Valley Rangers, the Bandits received an automatic entry into this weekend’s postseason District tournament in Whitefish, Montana.

As the eighth and final seed, however, they will have to face the league-best Bitterroot Red Sox (20-2).

“My message to the players has been, when we play well, it’s really great, it’s really clean, we make good plays, we make some tough plays, and we can hang with the other teams,” Mrazek said. “We don’t know who they’re going to throw at us, but [the Red Sox] pitch well, they throw well and they play defence well.”

In their two previous games against Bitterroot on July 8, the Bandits lost 7-3 and 11-0, but Mrazek wasn’t too displeased with those performances.

“We played okay against them when we were down there in Hamilton,” he said. “We’re going to throw our best at them, put out our best lineup and try to make it tough on them.

“We’re starting to pitch a little better and this week we’re going to talk about the mental approach to the game and not getting down, not getting deflated out there, and staying away from the big [bad] inning.”

Both offensively and defensively, Mrazek hopes his team can play a little smarter in their final weekend.

“[If] we have someone in scoring position, we want to cash them in and it doesn’t matter what inning,” he said. “We’ve got to make it harder on the other team to get us out [and] at the plate, offensively, hitters need to know the situation.

“If they’ve thrown three or four pitches and they’ve got two out, the next hitter can’t be coming up, swinging at the first pitch and flying out or [hitting] a routine ground ball.”

The Bandits kick off the District Championships against Bitterroot at 1 p.m. on Thursday.