Legion baseball: Indians, Cubs ready to seal the deal at states

ESCANABA – After making a statement in the Upper Peninsula Class A zone tournament, the Gladstone Indians hope to take everything a step further in this week’s American Legion state tourney.

The Indians (28-18-1), fresh from being crowned zone champions, face Hancock (16-16) in their state tourney opener Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at Adrian College.

Gladstone is 4-2 against Hancock this season, including Saturday’s 10-0 triumph over the Flames in the zone tournament at Menominee.

“We’re quite familiar with each other,” said Gladstone manager Jim Groleau. “There’s definitely going to be no secrets. By the time we played them in the zone tournament, they had used up their pitchers. They’re going to throw their best and we’re going to put our best foot forward.”

Gladstone secured the zone title Sunday in a 15-0 rout of Esky in a rain-shortened contest halted after two innings.

“We knew they (Esky) were going to be down in pitching,” said Groleau. “They had to win three games against good teams to make it into Sunday. Tom (manager Ohman) made it clear he had nobody left to throw. Yet, we didn’t take anything for granted. We hit line drives and put the ball in play.”

Justin Jurek will likely continue as the Indians’ leadoff hitter, with Cody Frazer, Hayden Hardwick and Jake Pearson in the heart of their order.

“Our 3-4-5 guys have been getting on base and driving in the runs for us,” said Groleau. “The rest of the guys also stepped up and hit the ball, and that’s what it’s going to take. We’re also looking for our pitchers to carry us this weekend.”

Gladstone’s Christian Groleau collected six hits in Menominee, including a trio against Esky.

If Gladstone wins, it will face last year’s runner-up Hudson Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The Indians would otherwise play Friday at 9 a.m.

“We had a phenomenal game with Hudson last year (in Marquette),” said Groleau. “They were quick and fast on the basepaths and could make things happen. I remember we fell to them 13-11 in 13 innings in one of the most exciting games I ever coached. Although, it was a tough one to lose. We also left 17 guys on base.”

Unlike other games, Gladstone and Esky will be playing on Astroturf in this tournament.

“That will be different,” said Groleau. “I don’t know what type of Astroturf they have. But it will be a faster surface. We’re going to have to adjust on the fly.”

The lone exception will be the pitcher’s mound, which has dirt.

“I’ve been on the Internet looking at it,” said Esky manager Tom Ohman. “This is going to be a big treat for our kids. Pitchers can wear spikes. Other players must wear tennis shoes, turf shoes or molded cleats. I’m really looking forward to it. This will be new to some of our guys, but not to others.”

The Cubs (14-16) made a statement in their own right during the zone tourney by eliminating Marquette 7-5, defending state champ Kingsford 4-1 and beating Hancock 5-2 on Saturday.

“The first couple games, we didn’t let anybody throw more than 40 pitches,” said Ohman. “Andrew Sedlar came out of the blue the past couple weeks. He and Ben Kleiman also didn’t come out of there with sore arms, which should help us this weekend. The kids really had to work their butts off. We just ran out of pitching in the championship game.”

Saturday’s trio of games were a by-product of Friday’s rainfall which washed out all of that day’s games.

“That actually helped us for Saturday,” said Ohman. “We really didn’t want to play that game Sunday anyway. The kids had a hard time throwing strikes. You need to have decent pitching if you’re going to compete with Gladstone.”

Esky, which received an opening-round bye, opens against Ida or Gladwin Thursday at 4 p.m.

“That’s pretty nice,” said Ohman. “Now, we have to take advantage of it. We have a chance to get to the championship game without using a lot of pitchers. We’re at the level where we need to get ahead of the hitters in the pitch count. We can’t give the other teams extra outs and strand a bunch of baserunners.

“Hunter LaMarch had a good tournament in Menominee and Brandon Punzel has been real consistent. I think the kids are excited, and they’re having fun. I also think they’ve come together as a team.”