Marquette, Ishpeming vie for zone title this week

MARQUETTE – With a 42-15 season record, the Marquette Blues are a good bet to make it to the title game of the American Legion state Zone 5 baseball tournament in Marquette this weekend.

Manager Derek Swajanen isn’t taking anything for granted, however.

“We’re a battle-tested team that has won a lot of games under stress,” he said Tuesday.

“It’s important for us to go 3-0 (in pool play), but we have to take it one game at a time.”

Menominee, Gladstone, Escanaba, Ishpeming and Hancock (9-19) will also field teams in the three-day tournament at Gerard Haley Memorial Field and the field adjacent to it. The top three teams advance to state tournament play next week in Gladwin.

“We’re playing good ball and have been competitive,” said Swajanen, whose team opens against Ishpeming at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. “But Gladstone is a good team and Escanaba has done some good things, too.”

The Blues, without injured players Derek Stone (back) and Riley Lynch (knee) are coming off three road losses to Wisconsin teams last weekend: 13-12 to Chippewa Falls, 8-0 to Plover and 5-2 to Sheboygan.

Swajanen said he expects both Stone and Lynch to play this weekend.

The Blues boast a strong pitching staff and some potent hitters.

McKinley Larson (11-7) and Trevor Bratonia (11-3) head what Swajanen said is a “deep” mound corps.

“They’re our workhorses,” the manager said. “Larson – who has faced our toughest opposition – moves the ball around and has a lot of command, while Bratonia is always around the dish.”

Lynch, Ryan Hanson and Payton LeBombard also see a considerable amount of work on the mound.

At the plate, Larson and Hunter Larson pace a potent offense. McKinley leads the Blues with 72 RBIs, while Hunter has an on-base percentage of more than .500 as a leadoff hitter.

Lynch, Hanson and catcher Levi Underwood also provide some punch, Swajanen said.

“We’re playing as well as anyone,” the manager said. “We also have a little bit of an advantage playing at home. (Haley Field is) a big park, but we’ve done a good job hitting into the gaps there.”

Gladstone will meet Escanaba in Thursday’s opening game at 11 a.m., while Menominee will meet Hancock at 1 p.m. on the field adjacent to Haley Field.

Semifinal action on Saturday is scheduled for 11 a.m. on both fields. The third-place game is planned for 2 p.m. on the adjacent field, while the championship contest is set for 2:30 p.m. at Haley.

Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.