'It's unbelievable' — Idaho Falls Bandits win state's first American Legion World Series championship

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  • Idaho Falls celebrates its 5-3 victory after the final out of the championship game of the 2019 American Legion World Series at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, North Carolina.

  • 1

    Idaho Falls Bandits outfielder Kai Howell, center, carries the 2019 American Legion World Series trophy following the Bandits’ win in Wednesday’s championship. Also pictured are Jaxon Sorenson, left, and Brody Owens.

  • Idaho Falls celebrates its 5-3 victory after the final out of the championship game of the 2019 American Legion World Series at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, North Carolina.

  • 1

    Idaho Falls Bandits outfielder Kai Howell, center, carries the 2019 American Legion World Series trophy following the Bandits’ win in Wednesday’s championship. Also pictured are Jaxon Sorenson, left, and Brody Owens.

Idaho finally has an American Legion national champion.

The Idaho Falls Bandits made history Wednesday, beating Fargo, North Dakota, 5-3 to win the state’s first American Legion World Series championship. They were the only team to go undefeated (5-0) at the tournament in Shelby, North Carolina, and finished the season with a record of 61-6-1.

The Bandits’ World Series championship comes after the team won the Area C district title, Idaho state championship and Region 7 championship earlier this summer. They’re one of three Idaho squads to make the World Series title game, following Pocatello in 1926 and Lewiston in 2001. The World Series was first held in 1926.

{blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”}{p lang=”en” xml:lang=”en” dir=”ltr”}Idaho Falls, Idaho Post 56 wins the 2019 American Legion World Series! pic.twitter.com/m7rX0qkVcy — Legion Baseball (@legionbaseball) August 21, 2019 {/blockquote}

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“What a season for these young men,” Bandits head coach Ryan Alexander said in an American Legion press release. “They have earned everything they have gotten along the way. It is a resilient group. Our goal was to be in Shelby and once we got here, we decided we might as well win it. These boys have continued to impress. They are a good group of young men I couldn’t be happier for.”

Idaho Falls outscored its opponents 24-12 during the five-game tournament, winning its last three games by two runs or fewer. The Bandits opened the World Series by beating Fargo 7-3 and also dispatched Shrewsbury, Massachusetts; Randolph County, North Carolina; and Danville, Illinois. Fargo was the first North Dakota team to make it to the tournament finals and finished with a record of 54-8.

The Bandits’ championship celebration came 17 hours after the championship game began. The game started Tuesday afternoon, but was postponed in the top of the second inning because of weather and field conditions. It resumed Wednesday morning with Fargo leading 2-1.

Idaho Falls scored three runs in the bottom of the second Wednesday to grab the lead for good. Tavyn Lords did the big damage with a go-ahead, two-RBI single, after Alex Cortez tied the score with an RBI knock. Nick Layland plated the Bandits’ final run with a sacrifice fly in the third.

Fargo threatened to cut the Bandits’ lead multiple times late in the game.

In the sixth, Fargo got two runners on base with no outs and loaded the bases with two outs, but did not score.

Then in the seventh, Fargo cut the lead to 5-3 with a one-out RBI single, but a groundout with two runners on base ended the game.

“It’s unbelievable. We did it for our state,” said Bandits second baseman Bruer Webster, who fielded the game’s final out. “I love where I live. I love the state of Idaho. It means a lot to bring the title back. (The last play) was in slow motion. You kind of black out when you field it before you make the throw. It was crazy.”

Tuesday’s postponement knocked Bandits ace pitcher Randon Hostert off the mound. The University of Utah signee and 15th-round MLB Draft pick, who spun two no-hitters in the regional tournament, threw 35 pitches Tuesday, meaning he had to wait one full day before pitching again, per American Legion pitch count rules. He allowed two unearned runs on three hits in one inning.

He was relieved Wednesday by Andrew Gregersen. The left-hander tossed the final six innings, shutting Fargo out until the final frame. The College of Southern Idaho signee held Fargo to five hits, while walking three, striking out six and stranding nine runners on base.

“I honestly was surprised to hear my name that I was going out to pitch,” Gregersen said. “But I knew that everyone would have my back behind me.”

At the plate, the Bandits scattered nine hits from eight different hitters. Cortez went 2 for 3 with an RBI, Lords had two RBIs and Jaxon Sorenson’s double was the game’s only extra-base hit.

The Bandits continued a streak of appearances by Idaho teams at the World Series. The Lewis-Clark Twins (2017) and Mountain View Toros (2018) qualified the last two seasons.

But it’s the Bandits who end the summer on top. The loaded squad combined players from 4A state champion Bonneville High and 4A state runner-up Idaho Falls High, plus the top players from Skyline, Hillcrest and Thunder Ridge high schools. They earned a walk-off win in Monday’s semifinal to earn a spot in the championship.

{blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”}{p lang=”und” xml:lang=”und” dir=”ltr”} #onecity#ALWS19pic.twitter.com/qZYn3i91BV — Bonneville Bees Baseball (@bonnbeesbasebal) August 21, 2019 {/blockquote}

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The Bandits end the season as the winningest squad in team history and the first to win a regional championship.

Above all, they claimed the state’s first national title, 94 years in the making.

“This shows that there is good baseball in Idaho,” Alexander said. “There has been for a long time. There are great high school programs and Legion programs. Coaches work hard, players love the game and we are just happy to be here representing our home state, the Northwest region and Post 56.”

HOSTERT, CORTEZ EARN INDIVIDUAL HONORS

Idaho Falls pitcher Randon Hostert and Bandits shortstop Alex Cortez earned individual awards following the conclusion of the 2019 American Legion World Series.

Hostert won the Bob Feller Pitching Award, given annually to the pitcher who records the most strikeouts in regional and World Series competition. Hostert struck out 23 batters during those tournaments.

Cortez was honored with the James Daniels Sportsmanship Award, which recognizes a World Series player “who best represents teamwork, loyalty, cooperation, self-reliance, fair play and courage.”

Cortez, second baseman Bruer Webster, Andrew Gregersen (outfield) and Caden Christensen (pitcher) were named to the all-tournament team.

IDAHO FALLS 5, FARGO 3

Fargo 200 000 1 — 3 8 1

Idaho Falls 131 000 x — 5 9 3

Fargo — LP: Frey.

Idaho Falls — WP: Gregersen. 2B: Sorenson.

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