Legion baseball: Marquette Blues open Zone tournament with extra-inning victory

MENOMINEE – The Marquette Blues had every reason to be deflated, yielding a lead it held all game by allowing Kingsford to score three runs in the bottom of the seventh and final regulation inning.

Instead, a pair of Blues batters began extra innings with hits to push across what proved to be the game-winning run in a 4-3 victory to open the American Legion Zone 5 baseball tournament in Menominee on Wednesday afternoon.

The even matchup wasn’t surprising considering that Marquette won the Mid-Peninsula League regular-season title, while Kingsford took the league playoff championship less than two weeks ago.

Wednesday’s victory keeps Marquette alive in the winner’s bracket, where the Blues will only have to play one game today, against Hancock at 5 p.m. EDT. Hancock defeated Channing on Wednesday.

Marquette will continue to play just one game per day as long as it keeps winning, but if the Blues instead lose to Hancock, they will face twinbills in the elimination bracket on both Friday and Saturday – as long as they stay alive with victories.

On Wednesday, Marquette (30-19) scored three runs in the top of the first inning and made it hold up for another 6 1/2 innings until Kingsford matched it.

Then came the top of the eighth. Ryan Hanson led off with a single, then McKinley Larson doubled to left field as Hanson slid wide of the plate to miss the tag by the Kingsford catcher, who dropped the ball and allowed Hanson to crawl back to touch the plate.

“The boys … played very well defensively up till the seventh inning,” Marquette manager Derek Swajanen said. “For Hanson to score on that hit by Mac (Larson), that was great base running on his part.”

Larson was left on third base without scoring, but reliever Trevor Bratonia made the one run he was given stand up.

In the seventh, Kingsford (15-14) had the winning run on third base when Bratonia got a strikeout to end the rally. In the eighth, he got the Dickinson County team out 1-2-3, inducing a pair of groundouts before striking out the final batter to earn the win.

Like in the top of the eighth, Hanson and McKinley Larson were also instrumental in their team’s first-inning outburst. After Hunter Larson singled, Hanson also singled to put two aboard. Then a double by McKinley Larson brought home a run, followed by a ground out from Derek Stone and single by Ryan Walther that each plated a run.

“We had some real timely hitting today,” Swajanen said. “Scoring three (runs) in the first at-bat was a big goal for us today and we accomplished that.”

Neither team could score for a long time, though, even with constant traffic on the bases.

McKinley Larson started and went 6 innings for Marquette, allowing five hits and six walks as he struck out six, while Kingsford’s Mike McCole went all eight innings, allowing 11 hits and a walk while fanning five.

Hunter Larson finished 3- for-4, while Hanson, Walther and McKinley Larson each had two hits. Bratonia and Luke Swajanen also doubled.

C.J. Qualley went 2-for-3 for Kingsford, drawing one of four walks for his team in the seventh that forced McKinley Larson’s exit from the mound.