It was never really about the pressure to repeat. The 2019 Idaho Falls Bandits already wrote their chapter in history as the first team from Idaho to win an American Legion World Series.
The downtown parade, the trophy presentations, the adulation and the sense of local pride could never be matched.
So after the 2020 World Series was canceled due to COVID-19, the goal for the 2021 Bandits was to set their own bar and see how high they could go.
Winning another World Series title?
Definitely a goal, but doing it as a new team, with a new cast of characters, each looking to create their own memories and celebrate their own accomplishments, while still carrying on the legacy set two years ago.
Consider the new chapter written.
The Bandits defended their American Legion World Series title on Wednesday in Shelby, N.C., displaying the kind of balance that separates the good teams from the championship teams.
The 6-1 win over Hawaii was reminiscent of the 2019 squad, where pitching and perseverance proved the difference.
But the 2021 team made its own mark.
“I’m speechless right now,” Kai Howell, the team’s only returning player from the 2019 squad, said in a statement. “It just feels great, especially for these guys doing it for the first time.”
“I am actually just so happy for these kids,” coach Ryan Alexander added. “For me as a coach, there’s shock because you never know if you’re ever going to get back here.”
The Bandits, who finished 45-10-1, may have entered the season with some unknowns, but by the time the postseason rolled around it was clear the roster had the pieces to make another run.
Idaho Falls went unbeaten in the state and regional tournaments and opened the World Series with an impressive win over Michigan. A 10-2 loss to Iowa in the second game didn’t faze the Bandits. Rain delays hampered the rest of the tournament, but Idaho Falls reached the championship game as the offense heated up, scoring 28 runs over the final three games.
Ace right-hander Merit Jones took mound in the championship game and struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings. The offense broke open a scoreless tie with six runs in the fifth inning, highlighted by RBI singles by Eliot Jones and McGwire Jephson, and a run-scoring double by RJ Woods. The Bandits also took advantage of two errors by Hawaii to take the 6-0 lead.
Jones worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the fifth after three straight walks. Alexander said he was close to pulling Jones, but the Idaho Falls High standout managed to get out of the inning unscathed.
“I just tried to grind it and make it work,” Jones said in a statement.
Jones pitched into the seventh before being relieved by Davin Luce for the final two outs. A popup to second baseman Eliot Jones ended the game and set off the celebration near the mound.
The American Legion World Series started in 1926. Idaho Falls is just the sixth team and first since 2014 to repeat as champion.
IDAHO FALLS BANDITS 6, HAWAII 1
Bandits 0 0 0 0 6 0 0 – 6 13 0
Hawaii 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 – 15 2
BANDITS – Pitching: Merit Jones 6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 8 K, 5 BB; Davin Luce 0.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 K, 0 BB. Leading hitters: Nate Rose 2-4, Eliot Jones 2-4, Ayson Webb 2-4, RJ Woods 2-3. 2B: Woods. RBI: Eliot Jones, Bradley Thompson, Webb, Woods.
HAWAII – Pitching: Ty Yukumoto 5.0 IP, 12 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 K, 0 BB; Hunter Hirayama 2.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 K, 2 BB. RBI: Micah Zeller.