IRON MOUNTAIN Kingsford Blues manager Kevin Murdock knew all along exactly what he had on his American Legion roster this season.
The trick, in earning the state title earlier this month, was getting it all together at the right time.
"(Assistant coach) Jim Gravel and I felt all along that this was a team that could compete for a championship," Murdock said. "We felt that we had all the pieces of the puzzle with defense, pitching and offense."
D. Roy Carollo Photo
Kingsford Blues defeated Hudson to capture the American Legion baseball Class A state championship. The Blues, front row, from left: Kevin Murdock (manager), Dusty Neuens, Nick Sweig, CJ Qualley, Paul Deyaert, Nick Baldwin, Bryce Kerscher and Aidan Wienke. Back row: Cole Tengesdahl, Austin Murdock, Kyle Sexton, Chris Berndt, Matt Wiitanen, Jeff Gregory, Mike McCole and Jim Gravel (coach).
"But throughout the year we would have trouble with one facet of our game that kept us from playing the kind of game we wanted. It was great that we put them all together at the right time," he said.
Harnessing talent is one thing. Cultivating belief is another.
"I truly believe that the Hancock game during the zone tournament was the game that made us believe," Murdock said. Down 4-0 after two innings and then to win 5-4, that really gave these young men a belief in themselves."
The strong showing at the zone tournament at Sault Ste. Marie provided Kingsford its ticket to Marquette for the state finals. And in the practices leading up to the championship weekend in Marquette, Murdock reminded his team they were the only ones in the field who earned their way there two years in a row.
"We discussed how we needed to carry ourselves with that pride and show that we belong there," he said. "I believe the kids took that to heart and went to Marquette knowing what they wanted to do."
Murdock took 16 players to the state tournament, which ended with Kingsford's 16-14 win over defending Class A champion Hudson, and hopes to return 10 of them next season.
"I am looking forward to see what we can accomplish next year," he said.
But at the same time, Murdock knows some of the team's losses will be tough to overcome.
Kyle Sexton, Matt Wiitanen, Ian Wienke, Paul Deyaert, Chris Berndt, Dustin Neuens, Zach Swanson are among those who will be older than the 19-year old age limit to compete in legion ball.
Sexton closed his career by shutting down Hudson in the eighth and ninth innings of the title clinching contest. Wiitanen supplied a solid glove at third and a "sweet left-handed swing."
Murdock called Wienke a special athlete who really played his best ball in the zone and state tourneys, hitting with power.
Deyaert was someone Murdock could count on to pitch or catch.
"He was a great outfielder too," Murdock said. "He always does a great job wherever I ask him to go."
Murdock said Neuens was a great defensive player at second.
"He turned the sweetest double play in history in the top of the ninth of the championship game," Murdock added.
Chris Berndt and Zach Swanson, who missed the final tournament, also saw their legion careers conclude this summer.
"Each of these young men did an outstanding job when called upon," Murdock said of his entire group.