The Cranbrook Bandits Junior ‘B’ team hasn’t played a lot of American Legion competition this season, but that hasn’t diminished their confidence heading into the year-ending district tournament.
Starting on Thursday, the Bandits will be in Hamilton, Montana as one of eight teams looking to win the Junior ‘B’ district title. This season the Bandits are 11-13 overall and 3-5 in games against fellow Montana League teams.
Although several planned games this season against American Legion teams were cancelled due to inclement weather, Cranbrook’s ‘B’ side has shown significant improvement this season during their opportunities to play. Last year, in their inaugural campaign as an under-17 development program, the team ended their season on a 20-game losing streak. This year, they wrapped up the regular season with two exhibition game wins.
On July 9, the team played a doubleheader against the Ferris High School Saxons of Spokane, Washington and lost the first game 13-8 before earning a convincing 17-7 victory. On Monday, the Bandits faced off against the U-15 Kootenay Zone 1 BC Summer Games team and won 15-9 in an entertaining back-and-forth affair.
“It’s tough playing younger guys in a non-meaningful game and thinking about Hamilton coming up here and getting excited for it,” King said. “I put different guys in different positions so that they’d be energized and enthused and they were.
“We talked [after the game] about how it was a good warm-up.”
Overall, King believes that the team should come into districts with plenty of confidence in themselves as individuals and as a unit.
“We’re feeling very energized and excited… it’s a long road to get to this point,” the coach said. “[It’s been] a lot of work. The boys have put in a lot of hours and they’re excited. [Now] this is what it’s all about. This is what it comes down to here.”
At the district tournament, the Bandits will play a three-game round robin beginning with a game against the Wolf Point Yellow Jackets. From there, the team plays the Laurel Dodgers ‘B’ team and then the hometown Bitterroot Red Sox ‘B’ side.
Not only does King believe his team can be competitive with these sides, he thinks that they are amongst the top teams when it comes to certain elements of the game.
“We have some very strong pitching,” he said. “We’ve got some of the league’s best pitchers. There is no doubt about it. And we’ve got a couple of good catchers [too]. We’ve got some strong defensive players and offensively, we can hit pretty well, right through the line-up.
“We’ve got, not a fast team, but a good baserunning team. We only have a couple of guys that I would classify as overly speedy, but about 75 per cent of them are smart baserunners.”
No matter the outcome of this weekend’s tournament, it will be the end of the Junior Bandits season. The Senior ‘A’ squad will play at their own District tournament the following weekend, once again in Hamilton, with a chance to make it to the Montana state championship.