Remarkable run for Niagara club
American Legion Baseball
NIAGARA, Wis. — A group of young men from Norway, Niagara and North Central have put together quite a run over the past 10 years.
Starting from Little League’s age 7-8 division and winding up with Wisconsin American Legion baseball, they challenged for state titles repeatedly.
The latest bid came in the Wisconsin American Legion Class A state tournament at Clintonville, where they reached the semifinals and bowed to eventual state champion West Salem.
“I had a great bunch of kids playing baseball together for 10 years,” said Niagara manager Dale Blagec. “These young men will have made memories for the rest of their lives.”
Joe Murvich, Kevin Evosevich, Hunter Kaldor, Seth Polfus, Ethan Blagec and Justin Bal have been together 10 years, according to the Niagara skipper. Bob Kleiman and Cody Carlson played for nine.
Polfus, a key to North Central’s incredible basketball success, faced some of his Legion teammates in high school baseball.
“During high school season whenever you played against one of the Legion guys, the intensity and competitiveness was just on another level,” Polfus said. “And then after the high school season was over, we got to bring all that together on one team and that is what made us successful.
“All the camping trips and baseball tournaments, it was a one of a kind experience with the group of guys we had.”
Most of the players camped out on the tournament trips out of town.
Jim Bal, who assisted Blagec with the Niagara Legion, coached these players and also broadcasted their Little League games over the radio.
“Not one fight through all those years,” Bal said. “They developed some great friendships. These kids played together and had a lot of fun.”
Bal won’t forget this group losing their first game in the Little League 10-year-old state tournament and going back to the camp ground in tears. That didn’t last long.
“The kids started playing waffle ball like nothing ever happened,” Bal said of the team that went on a winning streak and reached the semifinals.
Blagec noted four straight Little League state tournament appearances as age 9, 10, 11 and 12-year-olds. They were runner-up twice at the major (age 11-12) level.
As a Little League junior (age 13-14) team, they added another second in the state award.
The last four years have been with Wisconsin American Legion baseball’s Niagara Cretton Tutas Post No. 136.
Bal, a former Norway Little League administrator, recalled this group as 12-year-olds chalking up a 27-2 record as a travel team. They lost one-run games to Brussels and Oconto in extra innings.
A Grosse Pointe team knocked them off in the Little League state finals, finishing with a 36-3 overall record.
While most Little League teams stream-lined their rosters, Norway’s Little League team carried the unheard amount of 14 players. With everybody required to play in a Little League game, most teams limited their lineups.
“Everybody had an equal amount of reps,” Bal said. “Whoever made the last out, the next guy up in the batting order would lead off the next game.”
Bal believes Norway Little League baseball took off after the success of the age 7-10 players. Inter-league games within the Dickinson County area was another plus.
“These kids are a great bunch,” Bal said. “What a ride for me and Dale. And you couldn’t get a better bunch academically.”
They achieved this success despite little practice time together. It was difficult to coordinate workouts with the players coming from all directions.
“We didn’t practice but we were on the same page despite the different schools,” Bal said.
Joe Murvich, Seth Polfus, Ethan Blagec and Hunter Kaldor have reached the Legion age limit. Florence’s Nate Krueger also played this season but is bound for the Quincy (Ill.) University baseball program and may be obligated to spend next summer there.