By TOM KAESER
For The Daily News
MENOMINEE - Simple math dictates that nine doesn't go into three so earning a berth in the Michigan American Legion Class A State Tournament will be a tight squeeze.
At least seven teams have a shot at earning a trip to the state tourney with top-three finishes at the nine-team U.P. Zone Tournament which started today at Spies Field.
The tournament opened with Escanaba (8-15) playing Ishpeming at noon on B.J.'s Field. The winner plays Menominee (12-14) at 6 p.m. at B.J.'s Field.
Games will also be played at the Red Lacousiere diamond.
"We feel we have a good chance to win it," Menominee coach Tony Hofer said. "We've been fielding the ball good and if we keep doing that we have a chance to win all of our ball games."
The Eastern U.P. Travelers (Sault Ste. Marie) are one of the hottest teams in the tournament. The Travelers (19-10) face Gladstone (25-18-1) on the Lacousiere diamond at 4 p.m. today.
Coach Billy Mitchell's Travelers went on a tear in the second half of the season, winning 14 of 15 games and have posted a 14-3 record in July.
Defending Class A state champion Kingsford (15-13) was set to face tournament-tested Marquette at 1 p.m. at the Lacousiere field. Kingsford won the Mid Peninsula League tournament title last week.
Aidan Wienke and Cole Tengesdahl lead Kingsford. Tengesdahl, a streak hitter, is coming off a 3 for 3 game against Escanaba.
Marquette's Ryan Walther, who earned MVP honors at the Mid Peninsula All-Star Game, hopes to be a walk-on at Central Michigan University and Ryan Hanson has also been a leader for the Blues. Marquette was 27-16 heading into last week's tournament at Plover, Wis.
Escanaba's record is deceiving. The Cubs have played in high-level tournaments all summer and have a rich tournament tradition.
The Cubs drilled Kingsford 10-3 in the regular-season finale. Brandon Punzel, Bailey Lamb and Ben Kleiman lead Escanaba. Kleiman tossed a one-hitter in the Cubs' 10-0 five inning win over Menominee this season.
Gladstone put together a nine-game winning streak this season. The Indians are led by Jake Pearson and Cody Frazer.
Hancock's (14-14) Ty LaDuron struck out 15 in a 4-0 win over top-seeded Marquette at the Mid Pen tournament. Ishpeming gave Kingsford all it could handle in a 4-3 loss to the Blues last week and Channing took Hancock to the ninth inning before falling 4-3 in the Mid Pen playoffs.
"I've seen Escanaba play very good and I've seen them struggle, just like us," said Hofer. "Marquette is the same way and they've gotten a lot better. Kingsford is going to be tough and the Soo has a good record."
The top three teams in the tournament will join three downstate teams at the state tournament at Adrian College, which begins Aug. 2. Hudson is the host team.
(Tom Kaeser is assistant sports editor of The EagleHerald in Marinette):
Today's scheduled games follow:
Noon - Ishpeming vs. Escanaba (8-15), B.J.'s Field
1 p.m. - Kingsford (15-13) vs. Marquette, Red's Field
3 p.m. - Channing vs. Hancock (14-14), B.J.'s Field
4 p.m. - Gladstone (25-18-1) vs. Eastern U.P. (19-10), Red's Field
6 p.m. - Menominee (12-14 ) vs. Escanaba/Ishpeming winner, B.J.'s Field