Indians win elusive state championship

GLADSTONE – It had been a long time coming for manager Jim Groleau and the Gladstone Indians.

Teary eyed following the program’s first state title, Groleau spoke of the struggle of multiple third place finishes, always coming close and never tasting the ultimate victory, until Saturday.

The Gladstone Indians captured the American Legion baseball Class A state title with a 4-0 victory over Escanaba at Wilmot Field. The title is the first for Delta County since Escanaba won it in 1955.

After taking a day to soak it all in, Groleau announced his resignation after four years with the varsity Indians, Sunday in Gladstone.

“Time is catching up with me a little bit so I am going to hang up the shoes, so to speak,” he said shortly after the team bus arrived to much fanfare at Don Olsen Field.

Groleau said it was the right time to step down after finally capturing that elusive state title for his team.

“It’s super special, especially for the seniors,” Groleau said. “For me, what does it compare to? John Elway went out on top, having won a couple Super Bowls. Now I know how it feels.”

It was as impressive a tournament run as Gladstone could have put together. The Indians did not allow a run during their three games in Gladwin, and received excellent pitching, stellar defense and timely hitting.

“To go down there and not allow a single run, our defense and pitching were phenomenal and our hitting came around at the right time,” Groleau said. “Everything just gelled, it was fabulous.”

Each player on the team played a role in the victory, but the ending of the game may have been especially sweet for Christian Groleau. Last year in the state tournament, Groleau had a throwing error against Escanaba in a 1-0 loss. On Saturday, Groleau claimed vengeance, catching the final out in centerfield.

“That felt good,” Groleau said. “I told my cousin earlier in the game, I want to go seven innings and make the last catch. Sure enough, it came right to me. I think I was jumping before I caught the ball. It was a pretty good feeling.”

The play was almost too much for manager Groleau to bear.

“My head was between my knees on the bench and I couldn’t stomach to look at the field any longer. I heard the crack of the bat, looked up and the ball was going to centerfield,” Groleau said. “There was never a doubt in my mind that the game was over at that point because he doesn’t miss anything.”

That final out, securing a state title summarized a decade of playing ball with his teammates, with his dad coaching him a good portion of the way.

“To win one together, end our careers together and walk off the field together as state champs is a great feeling,” Groleau said. “It’s something we’ve talked about since I was 10 years old, and to finally do it together is phenomenal.

“These guys are great, and it’s not even just the seniors. It’s the juniors and sophomores and freshmen. I’ve been playing ball with these guys since I was 8-9 years old and nobody deserves it more than this group. It’s great that we got it done.”

After a dominant zone and state tournament, it becomes hard to think back to the start of the season, when Gladstone struggled coming off a long high school state tournament that ended in the final four at Michigan State University. Something clicked in July and the Indians came alive at the right time, as Sam Pouliot, who was named MVP explained.

“The time and effort we put in, and our fans and community helping us, we knew we had the team to do it,” he said. “We just had to get hot with the bats and get that chemistry going, and we got it going at the right time.”

That the win came against Escanaba was especially gratifying for the Gladstone team, and likely particularly tough for Cubs players, but Groleau for his part, acknowledged the hard work Escanaba did to earn a title game berth.

“It’s a tough road to come out of the loser’s bracket,” he said. “Give Escanaba all the credit in the world for coming through the way they did, losing that first game and battling back to get to this game. I was nervous for this game today because they have a great ball club.

“It definitely shows a lot for the quality of baseball we have in our area. We stress baseball from the early ages on and between us and Escanaba, we have two wonderful programs. There’s a lot of good young kids coming up, so this is just the start so this is just the start of good things to come between these two teams.”

Groleau said that although he is stepping down as manager, he plans on staying around the program to handle some front office work.

“I can’t make it to the field every day for practices and games, but I’m certainly not going to leave this bunch, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’ll be around.”