The Idaho Falls Bandits have been in playoff mode for nearly the past month, but the American Legion Double-A state champions may be headed for uncharted territory.
The Bandits began play in the Northwest regional tournament in Lewiston on Wednesday with a 10-0 win against the Casper (Wyoming) Oilers. Idaho Falls, which won its third state title last week, has never advanced out of the regional round, which features state champions from Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, two from Washington, and host Lewiston. The tournament format is double-elimination with games played over five consecutive days.
That format puts a premium on pitching depth and experienced lineups, a combination the Bandits (51-5-1) have benefited from all season.
“I’d say we have really good starters and a lot of good arms in the (bullpen),” said Andrew Gregersen, who along with Randon Hostert, Bruer Webster, Caden Christensen, Jace Hanson, and Austin Charboneau, has been clutch on the mound in the postseason.
“Our mentality as pitchers on this team is go out there and throw strikes, get outs, and let the defense work behind you,” Gregersen said.
“We have so many dudes that can pitch,” Christensen added. “We have 12 pitchers and everybody gives you a chance to win.”
Having so many arms available takes some pressure off of the starters, Christensen said. Depth also has an impact on the offensive end, where Idaho Falls hitters try to work the opposing pitcher, getting pitch counts up and putting pressure on the opposing defense by stealing bases.
“You have to give it everything you got,” Christensen said. “Just win and advance.”
The Bandits are tournament tested. Most of the roster played in this year’s high school district and state tournaments, with Bonneville and Idaho Falls reaching the 4A District 6 and 4A state title games. During the summer, the Bandits traveled to three out-of-state tournaments and competed against top programs. Coach Ryan Alexander credited that experience for helping get the team ready for the postseason, where they’re likely to face college-level pitching and the best hitters from nearby states.
In the state tournament opener, the Bandits held off Lewis-Clark 7-5. Over the next four games on the way to the state title, the Bandits gave up a total of four runs, with Hostert tossing a shutout in the final against Lewis-Clark.
“We’re super deep,” Hostert said. “Most teams have a couple of guys, but we can go six or seven guys deep.”
“I fully believe in everyone on this team,” said Hanson, whose walk-off homer in the district tournament sent the Bandits into the final.
Alexander even added a bit of superstition to the equation, making sure the team stays at the same hotel and on the same floor as it did for the state tournament in Lewiston.
Even so, pitching depth and experience will likely be the key.
“What we’ve found in the tournaments is that our depth is our friend,” he said. “We got guys that go out and give you 80-plus pitches. We got guys that can come in and match up with right-handers and left-handers, and guys that can come in in big moments. That lends itself to me having confidence to put them in in big moments.”