MARQUETTE - Not often is the Upper Peninsula disproportionately represented at a statewide tournament, but that will be the case at the American Legion Class A baseball tourney to be held in Marquette starting Thursday morning.
Five of the six teams come from the U.P., including the Marquette Blues, the senior Legion team that represents tourney host Richard M. Jopling Post 44. The other four U.P. teams, including Kingsford, were semifinalists at last weekend's Zone 5 tourney held in Sault Ste. Marie.
Kingsford manager Kevin Murdock said his team's key game last weekend was the one that clinched the state tourney berth.
"We knew the winner would keep going while the loser's season was all done," Murdock said as he estimated his team has a 28-19 record.
In their 5-4 comeback win over Hancock Friday, these Blues scored two in the sixth, two in the seventh and one more in the top of the eighth with the game ending on an aborted steal of home in the bottom of the eighth.
"Three of our pitchers had quality outings for us," Murdock said about C.J. Qualley, Nick Sweig and Austin Murdock at the zones.
He also mentioned Matt Wiitanen, Kyle Sexton and Ian Weinke as top-flight batters.
Due to eligibility rules based on the total enrollment of high schools that teams draw from, most downstate teams play in the Class AA tournament.
In fact, the one downstate team coming north this week, Hudson, didn't have to play in any tournament despite representing a 17-county area in the southern and western areas of the Lower Peninsula.
All but two games will be held at Gerard Haley Memorial Field in north Marquette. The two that aren't there will be played simultaneously with games on the Haley field at the adjacent Little League field.
"Since we don't have lights, we didn't want to have to start at 8 o'clock in the morning to get four games in on Thursday and Friday," said tournament coordinator Mike Trickey, a past commander of Post 44.
Instead, on each of the first two days, a pair of games will start a half-hour apart at 9 and 9:30 a.m. (Central), with single mid-afternoon and early evening games to follow.
By the time the double-elimination event gets to its third day on Saturday, only three teams will remain with games at Haley Field at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
So that no team has to play a tripleheader on Saturday, the second championship game, often known as the "if necessary" game, would go at noon Sunday. That game would be played only if the team that emerges out of the loser's bracket defeats the winner's bracket champion at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Thursday's schedule kicks off with U.P. zone champion Escanaba taking on Menominee at 9 a.m. at the Little League field, followed by Hudson vs. Gladstone at 9:30 a.m. at Haley field. Kingsford plays the Esky-Menominee winner at 1 p.m., while Marquette faces the Hudson-Gladstone victor at 5 p.m.
Loser's bracket games are set for Friday in the morning and at 1 p.m., while Thursday's afternoon and evening winners square off in the winner's bracket championship at 5 p.m. That winner will need just one more victory to capture the state title.
(Steve Brownlee writes for the Marquette Mining Journal)