Cranbrook Bandits ‘A’ team player Robert Nickell runs towards third base during their game against the Calgary Redbirds on May 28, 2017 at Confederation Park. (Brad McLeod Photo)

Cranbrook Bandits ‘A’ team player Robert Nickell runs towards third base during their game against the Calgary Redbirds on May 28, 2017 at Confederation Park. (Brad McLeod Photo)

Cranbrook Bandits fall just short of 2017 home tournament championship

‘A’ team handed 7-4 loss by Redbirds in final game of entertaining tournament at Confederation Park

“You can’t be too little, too late.”

That was Cranbrook Bandits ‘A’ team head coach Paul Mrazek’s message to his team in the seventh inning of the championship game of their home tournament.

Down 7-4 to the Calgary Redbirds, the Cranbrook bench was quiet and looked defeated on Sunday afternoon. They had been on the receiving end of two quick outs and were moments away from losing their Wood Bat Invitational Tournament.

“Let’s get in it,” Mrazek yelled at the dugout.

The team stood up and started to cheer their batter. Jake Bromley was on deck and hit a long fly ball for a single.

“Atta kid.”

Although Rylan D’Etcheverrey ended up having his hit caught on the very next play and the Redbirds took home the tourney trophy, it was a marked improvement for the Bandits.

“I’m really happy with the weekend — the boys played well,” Mrazek said following the game. “They’re starting to learn how to chip away better and stay in the game.”

While the Bandits were unable to have a comeback in that final game, the team battled all weekend and overcame several large deficits on their way to a berth in the first-place match.

In the opener on Friday night, the Bandits were down 6-2 to the Calgary Jr. Dinos at the top of the fifth inning, but after a pair of solid offensive innings, they took the game 10-6. Dan Mercandelli started on the mound and earned the win in that game after he gave up six runs, ten hits and struck out two batters. Carson Meggison stepped in during the fifth inning and recorded the last three outs to earn the save.

On Saturday, the Bandits once again clawed their way to victory against the Lethbridge ‘B’ Lakers. They scored two runs in the sixth inning to erase the Lakers 5-4 fifth inning lead.

Greg Rebagliati pitched six innings against Lethbridge, earning the win after surrendering five runs, seven hits, striking out six batters, and walking one. Meggison once again played the role of closer, recording the game’s last three outs and picking up another save.

“It was nice to see in the first two games when we were behind, we came back,” Mrazek said. “Defensively, we played well [all weekend].”

The Bandits final round robin game was against the Redbirds, and despite suffering a 3-1 loss, it was a valiant effort. The pitching in the Saturday night contest was strong on both sides with the Redbirds striking out nine hitters and a combination of Brandon Thorn and Robert Nickell earning four strikeouts for the Bandits.

Calgary built up their three-run lead after three innings and Cranbrook didn’t manage to strike until the final inning when D’Etcheverrey cashed in on an error at second base.

The championship game rematch was more of a back-and-forth game. The Bandits fought through an early Redbirds lead to get out of the fourth inning tied at 4-4.

While they ended up losing 7-4, both Saturday’s and Sunday’s games were solid in Mrazek’s book.

“If anyone came out and watched those two games, that [was] good baseball,” he said. “I told our players ‘that’s the way you play the game and that’s the way we need to play the game moving forward.’

“They felt it, they know they can do it, and we’re just going to start doing more of it.”

Mrazek said that both games were tight and the play of his team bodes well for the regular season. Last weekend in Kalispell, Montana, the team lost 15-0 in the championship game of their tournament — their loss at the home tournament, in comparison, was far gutsier.

“It’s a long season [and] we have a lot of games left and you can’t get down,” the coach explained. “So, [for] them to stay positive and stay in the games, [that was good].”

For Mrazek, turning games like they had against the Redbirds into wins, is just about getting more comfortable behind the plate.

“[In the final game], we had bases loaded and we didn’t cash anyone in a couple of times,” he said. “We hit the ball in the air and it popped up in the infield. No one is going to score [that way], we’ve got to hit a long fly ball.

“We’re working on that and them getting more comfortable in situational hitting in practice.”

In the end, the Bandits ‘A’ team had to settle for second place in the tournament.They finished higher than some very high-quality teams in the Jr. Dinos and the Mission Valley ‘A’ Mariners.

The ‘B’ team finished the tournament in last place, falling to Lethbridge 11-1 in the fifth-place consolation game. The home tournament was the U19 Bandits ‘A’ team’s last game before their American Legion Montana League season begins on May 31 in a road game in Eureka, Montana against the Kootenai Valley Rangers.