Logan Wade says belief was strong in champion Bandits team
WHEN the Brisbane Bandits got together in the pre-season with the direction to win or go home, every player in the squad bought in.
That might be hard to believe given the Bandits had never made the playoffs in the revamped ABL over the past five years - but it actually happened.
The end result was the Bandits breaking a 22-year national title drought with a comprehensive 2-0 ABL Championship Series win over the Adelaide Bite at Holloway Field on the weekend.
CEO Mark Ready and coach David Nilsson assembled an all-star roster with quality minor-league talent, including brilliant outfielders Justin Williams (10 home runs with a .342 average in the regular season) and Bralin Jackson (57 hits with a .264 average), and solid second baseman Riley Unroe (67 hits with a .318 average).
Ready and Nilsson's words in the pre-season were "win at all costs".
And the top-level American recruits just kept rolling in as the season went on.
Versatile fielder TJ Bennett was a revelation with eight home runs in just 25 regular-season games, before a shot in game one of the ABLCS gave his head a crucial 6-4 lead.
Then the Major League cavalry rolled in.
German slugger Donald Lutz ripped five regular-season homers in just 27 games, before a memorable three-run shot in game two of the ABLCS gave his team a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third, his team powering to the title from there with a 7-1 win.
And former MLB pitcher Travis Blackley was lights-out in game two, the Aussie starter giving up just six hits and one run in six frames.
He also had just a 1.50 earned run average from 18 innings pitched in the regular season.
But there were no weaknesses, with local Brisbane stars Logan Wade (.315 average), David Sutherland (.309 average), Mitch Nilsson (58 hits and nine home runs) and closer Ryan Searle (an ABL record 17 saves with just a .40 earned run average) also firing in the regular season.
"Of course we believed we could win the title at the start of the season - we had the players and the team chemistry to do it," shortstop Wade told APN.
"We were a team full of superstars, not just with one superstar, and every night you'd see a different superstar."
There was a feeling in the air after the Bandits' game-one victory on Friday night that, with that exact team full of superstars and Blackley ready to start, the team would simply not lose game two.
"It was just about approaching each game on the weekend like it was another game," Wade said.
"Not one person was nervous - we knew if we went out and pushed too hard, it wouldn't happen.
"We just wanted to have fun."
Brisbane's ABL title win was extra special for the Wade family, with Logan's father Greg a past champion.
"Dad has always watched me play and he made me the player I am," Wade said.
"He won five titles, so it was great for me and my family."
After some epic celebrations, including Brisbane's iconic Story Bridge lit up in yellow to honour the champions by the Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, eight Bandits players - Wade, Nilsson, Sutherland, Aaron Whitefield, and hurlers Blackley, Searle, Matt Timms and Justin Erasmus - will need to regroup.
They will play in the World Baseball Classic qualifiers in Sydney, with Team Australia's first game against the Philippines on Thursday night at the Blacktown International Sportspark.
The confidence will be high among the squad, after the Aussies beat the ABL World All Stars 3-2 in the annual exhibition match in Melbourne, back in December.
Wade came up with two hits in that game, and another two for the Bandits in their drought-breaking title victory on Saturday night.
"The game against the ABL All Stars showed how hard we can fight and how well this team can gel," Wade said.
"If we can qualify (for the WBC in March 2017), Australian baseball will take a big step forward."