BELGRADE — In 2020, the Belgrade Bandits stumbled in the State A Legion tournament. Now, after running right through the Southern A district tournament, they’re looking to win it all this weekend in Havre.
“This is the deepest team I’ve ever had in my time here at Belgrade. Hands down," said head coach Johnny Graham.
According to Graham, the players have been bought into the program since January workouts, determined to overcome their mistakes in 2020.
“All the same names, but they’re a year older and you learn through those things," he said. "Ideally we’d come in and play the game the way that we prepare to play it and then let the results take care of themselves.”
Buying in means buying into Graham’s style of coaching: hard work and attention to detail.
“We hustle no matter what," said pitcher and outfielder Coby Richards. "We run out every ground ball. We’re always trying to steal more bags and I think that gets in pitchers minds a lot.”
“I think we play a lot of four to six, A to B -- which is just fast paced offense and I think a lot of teams can’t keep up with us,” said junior Aidan Kulbeck.
Belgrade has been the team to beat this year in Southern A and teams have brought their best when trying to take the Bandits down, which in turn has helped them improve even more. They finished with a 17-3 conference record and 42-17 overall.
“I think everyone wants us and they throw their aces against," said Kulbeck. "I think it just makes us better, seeing everyone’s number one (pitcher).”
The difference in last year’s team and this year’s is the pitching staff led by ace Coby Richards.
“Just attack -- attack the strike zone and we play good defense behind them too and those kids know that," said Graham. "That’s the big key, fill it up, invite contact and then defensively it’s dominate those routine plays. We say it all the time, when those guys do that it gives us a shot.”
And in order to win state, they need to keep their game clean.
“I think if we just keep it clean in the infield and the outfield and our pitching throws strikes and trusts the defense, I think we will be just fine," said Richards.
Graham has never won a state title with the Bandits and he wants to send this group of guys out on top.
“These guys work hard," said Graham. "I love these guys as human beings and as a group of players to coach.”
Bandits earned the No.1 seed in the South and take on the Laurel Dodgers, the number two seed from the East at 1 p.m. on Thursday.