The Cranbrook Bandits (1-2-0) opened the American Legion Baseball season south of the border this past weekend, winning one of three games at the annual Loggertown Wood Bat Classic in Libby, Mont.
The bats were alive early as Cranbrook’s boys of summer laid a beating on Clark Fork to open the festivities, claiming a 20-2 victory Saturday afternoon, before dropping a tightly-contested affair against the Missoula Pioneers by a 3-2 margin.
The Bandits wrapped up the round-robin tournament with a 9-0 shutout loss to the Calgary Redbirds on Sunday.
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s promising,” said Paul Mrazek, Bandits head coach, Monday afternoon. “There’s a lot of stuff they kept from last year, which is great. We’re not starting from square one.
“Going into the Legion season, players have to make that adjustment — the game is faster than a lot of the high school teams they play [during spring ball]. There’s some stuff we need to clean up — mechanically, fundamentally there’s some stuff they can get away with [in high school baseball]… We’ve got to have solid mechanics and fundamentals.
“I’m not worried about it right now. I know it’s just a matter of focus, getting everyone on the same page.”
Linden Meggison fuelled the offense with four RBI in the big triumph over Clark Fork, while Robert Nickell contributed three hits along the way. In total, the Bandits knocked around the Clark Fork pitching staff for 10 hits, with 10 fielding errors by the visitors also helping to pace the Cranbrook kids.
On the heels of a big win early Saturday afternoon, the Bandits battled hard in the second of back-to-back outings, but ultimately dropped a one-run tilt to the Pioneers.
The Bandits received six strong innings on the mound from veteran right-hander Daniel Mercandelli, who tossed 20 first-pitch strikes en route to burning four Pioneers for strikeouts.
At the end of the contest, the Pioneers outhit their opposition by a 7-3 margin, with the Bandits committing three errors along the way, contributing their downfall.
After the Bandits pulled ahead 2-1 in the top of the sixth inning, trouble came around the bend as the Pioneers knotted the game in the latter half of the inning. Things went from bad to worse in the bottom of the seventh inning as the Pioneers juiced the bases with two outs on the board before scoring the deciding run.
Veteran Rylan D’Etcheverry was sent to the mound to get his team out of the jam, but couldn’t quite complete the task.
“That’s a real tough spot,” Mrazek said of the circumstance D’Etcheverry faced against the Pioneers. “He closed out the game before and did a great job. This was a pretty tough situation to put anyone in. It didn’t go our way. But like I told the pitchers — they’re looking at themselves, because that’s the last thing that happened, but we wouldn’t have been in that situation if they hit the ball on the ground early in the game and generated another run or two and if we made a couple routine plays instead of balls going between the legs on routine ground balls.
“We’ve got to support our pitchers and make routine plays.”
Wrapping up the tournament Sunday morning, the Bandits were cut down 9-0 by the Calgary Redbirds on the strength five consistent innings from Shaun Logan, who fired 10 first-pitch strikes and collected two strikeouts.
Despite coming out on the bottom end in two of three outings, Mrazek was happy with what he saw on opening weekend, especially considering his crew entered play with only a few days of light and basic practice time.
The Bandits return to action for home-opening excitement at Confederation Park in Cranbrook when the Trail Orioles visit town for a doubleheader Saturday beginning at 1 p.m.
Sunday afternoon, the Bandits then host the Kootenai Valley Rangers for another doubleheader, with first pitch slated for 12 p.m. at Confederation Park.