BASEBALL: Brisbane Bandits coach David Nilsson has made it no secret that his team didn't quite gel the way he would have liked it to last season.
Despite that, the team finished just one win short of making the playoffs, before powerhouse franchise the Perth Heat won its second consecutive ABL title.
After starting the season strongly with a 12-8 record for November last year, the Bandits couldn't quite replicate that momentum and consistency over the next two months, posting a 4-10 record in January.
They were still in the hunt for a playoffs berth going into their final four-game away series against the Heat.
But the Bandits were swept 4-0 by the eventual champions.
Nilsson, however - Australia's first ever Major League All Star in 1999 and rated the Milwaukee Brewers' best catcher in 2013 - believes he has brought his troops closer together this off-season.
"It (this pre-season) has been really good. Everyone has got more comfortable with each other," he said.
"There weren't any problems last season. I just don't think we were at the comfort level required to win the league.
"I don't think we had the chemistry or cohesiveness last year to stick together in the tough times."
Those tough times included the team's record away from home - winning just seven and losing 15 on the road.
"On the road we didn't do so good. The first part of the season we were right there the whole way, and the last three weeks of the season we just couldn't get over the line," Nilsson said.
"I hope that experience from last year will put us in good stead for this year."
Nilsson set high standards for his team last summer, and wasn't happy at times with the fielding errors and base running his troops displayed.
Again, he is confident that can become a thing of the past in the 2015/16 season.
"That's what I'm hoping for (overall improvement), because it was only a little thing here or there," he said.
Leading the way will be catcher Maxx Tissenbaum, at the Bandits for his second-straight ABL season from the Charlotte Stone Crabs at Advanced-A level in the American minor leagues.
Tissenbaum had the ABL's fifth best average of .340 last season.
The Bandits will also be bolstered by Tampa Bay prospects, including catcher Nick Ciuffo, second baseman Riley Unroe, and outfielders Justin Williams and Bralin Jackson, in 2015/16.
All four were teammates during the recent minor league season, playing for the Bowling Green Hot Rods in the Class-A Midwest League.
"Maxx played great last year, he was our best player, and you want guys who are enthusiastic," Nilsson said.
"He was knocking down the door to come which is great for us.
"I'm super excited (about the Rays prospects). They've got high ceilings and high talent.
"They'll be out here working on stuff and they're going to make mistakes at times.
"But that's all part of it."
The Bandits will open their ABL campaign with a four-game series away to Canberra starting tonight.
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