Crystal Lake Bombers stay alive with booming bats

CRYSTAL LAKE – Since going 0-5 in pool play of the double-elimination MCYSA Summer International Championships, the Crystal Lake Bombers have lost plenty of sleep.

“We kind of got lucky,” manager Mike Krueger said. “We’ve had five 8 a.m. games, so the kids are getting used to waking up early.”

The Bombers’ five morning games have come in the SIlver Bracket, the consolation bracket of the 15-and-under baseball tournament. They split their first two games Wednesday, meaning the past three days have consisted entirely of elimination games. In them, the Bombers have delivered.

“A couple guys have been slumping, so we’ve been getting back to basics,” Krueger said. “A lot of small ball just to get their confidence up.”

After winning, 11-2, against Lithuania’s Vilnius BC in five innings and Wichita’s Rockhounds, 11-7, in a 10-inning game later Friday, the Bombers have extended their elimination game winning streak to four games, pushing their Silver Bracket record to 5-1 and their tournament record to 5-6.

“We just play every game like it’s our last, because it is,” said DJ Cruz, the starting pitcher against Lithuania. “This is the end of our season after this tournament, so we want to go out with a win.”

Cruz was dominant in his outing, holding Lithuania’s offense to two runs in four innings. In the fifth, he was relieved by Alex Bahnick, whose offensive surge has helped the Bombers survive.

“More so these last games, it’s been getting the hitting down,” Bahnick said. “We’ve had the clutch hitting, which is going to win games.”

The Bombers have won all their elimination games with a relentless attack, scoring 45 runs in their four-game winning streak. Players attribute the renaissance to Krueger’s coaching after their loss Wednesday, blank words of sanctity that lit the Bombers’ bats.

“He didn’t [say anything],” said Luke Tevyaw, whose RBI double was the difference in Friday's second game. “He didn’t even worry about it. He knew [and] had faith that we were going to win this bracket.”

Krueger’s confidence has joined the players’ desire for a longer season to create arguably the hottest team in the tournament. Throughout the summer, players have grown into a tighter-knit team, knowing that once their run’s over, baseball is gone until the spring.

“We’re like family out there,” Cruz said.

Today, the Bombers family plays the Mac-N-Seitz Royals of Blue Springs, Mo., in the Silver Division semifinals. It’s another elimination game, so they want to make it count.

“Let’s keep it up,” Bahnick said.

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