Their pre-season action was a wild ride but the Cranbrook Bandits U17 junior ‘B’ team is just getting started.
After opening the year with eight straight wins against young competition from Calgary, the ‘B’ team were sent back down to earth with four straight losses at the home ‘Bandits Wood Bat Invitational’.
This weekend, they’ll get started on their inaugural American Legion Montana League ‘B’ conference play with four games at home against the Bitterroot Red Sox and the Mission Valley Mariners ‘B’ team.
According to head coach Ryan Phillips, after plenty of experimentation over the past month, his players have now all found their positions and are ready for the season.
“This upcoming weekend is going to be another test for us,” Phillips said. “We’re still a new team — some of the guys just have a few years of baseball experience under their belts — so it’s still just about getting in their reps and seeing pitches, getting at-bats [and] getting ground balls.
“We don’t have too many expectations [for these games] because we’re going to be facing some decent teams, but I expect the guys to be working hard and hopefully we can squeeze out a win or two.”
While the team hasn’t had a game since the home tournament on May 28 when they finished off the weekend with an 11-1 loss to the Lethbridge Lakers ‘B’ team, they certainly haven’t been taking it easy.
At practice, the team has been sharpening their skills in all areas of the game.
“[We’ve been doing] everything from catcher’s work — blocking balls [and] receiving them — [to] defensive positioning, throwing bullpen and getting some hits in the cage,” Phillips explained. “We’ve been working on everything.”
Although the young Bandits have shown tremendous offensive potential, having racked up 135 total runs in their first eight pre-season games, Phillips knows that league play will be more difficult.
“At the beginning of the year the pitchers that we were facing weren’t too focused on base running, they were more focused on their pitching — throwing strikes — but [now] we’re going to be facing some tougher teams,” the coach said. “We’ll [start to] see that pitcher who’s going to be worried about the runner on first, and they’re not going to be afraid to pick [them] off.
“We need smart base running and not be afraid to be aggressive at the plate [and] put a lot of balls in play.”
Phillips is happy, however, that the team gets to play these opening games at their home park.
“It’s always nice to get a little extra support,” he said. “I think it makes it easier on the guys, especially not having to travel.
“At the same time [though], our intensity level needs to be on the same at home as on the road.”
The Bandits kick off the weekend with a doubleheader against Bitterroot on Saturday, June 10 with games at 2:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at Confederation Park. They then play another pair of games, at the same field, against Mission Valley on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.
The Bandits ‘A’ team meanwhile, will spend the weekend on the road with a pair of doubleheaders against the Kalispell Lakers and Missoula Mavericks.