The Idaho Falls Bandits are headed back to the American Legion World Series.

The 2019 World Series champions didn’t get a chance to return to Shelby, N.C. and defend their title last year because the American Legion regional tournaments and World Series were canceled due to COVID-19, but the 2021 Bandits earned a berth with an impressive 10-0 run so far in the postseason.

The Idaho state and Northwest region champion Bandits continue their postseason run beginning Thursday when they face Midland Berryhill of Michigan at 2 p.m. (MDT) in their World Series opener.

It’s hard not to compare the current team with the historical title run the Bandits made two years ago, but coach Ryan Alexander noted the 2021 squad is out to forge its own path.

“This team has its own identity,” Alexander said. “They’ve taken this as their own journey.”

Only Kai Howell remains from the 2019 roster, and he’s talked to current players about what to expect in the postseason and the opportunities ahead.

Howell said before the regional tournament that both the 2019 and 2021 team had all the pieces to make a postseason run, but everyone had to do their part to reach the final goal.

“We’ve had a lot of dudes step up,” he said.

Alexander said that after a slow start, things started to change over the final three games of the regional tournament last week in Gillette, Wyoming. The Bandits won the first two games, but scored just five runs on 12 hits. The pitching proved the difference, including a combined no-hitter in a 1-0 win over Gillette in Game 2.

“I think the guys pressed a little bit,” Alexander said.

In the final three games of the regional tournament the Bandits had 41 hits, scored 29 runs, and hit .432.

The pitching staff was as good as advertised, with Merit Jones posting an earned run average of 0.68 in 14 innings and striking out 23 batters. The rest of the staff has been just as impressive, with eight pitchers combining for a 1.80 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 70 innings.

After the combined no-hitter, the offense picked up. The Bandits scored 12 runs against Oregon in the semifinals and beat Helena 9-3 in Sunday’s championship game.

“Our offense settled in,” Alexander said. “We got comfortable after (the no-hitter).”

As with the 2019 team, pitching depth will likely be crucial in the World Series. So far the team has responded. Jones, the team’s ace, didn’t even pitch until the third game of the regional tournament, giving Alexander a chance to mix and match pitchers and manage pitch counts.

“Pretty much the guys we’ve thrown out there have done a good job,” Alexander said.

Broadcast note: All 15 games of the 2021 American Legion World Series will be available for viewing via ESPN broadcast or streaming services.

The 12 pool play games will be streamed on ESPN3 while the semifinals and championship game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

Allan Steele is Sports Editor of the Post Register. Reach him at 208 542-6772 and follow on Twitter at asteele12000.

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