ESCANABA - A district title is Escanaba's for the taking when the Eskymos take the field Saturday in a Division II baseball district at Sault Ste. Marie. Or it could be Petoskey, Cheboygan or Sault High. All four teams appear to have a legitimate shot.
Escanaba (19-12) drew Cheboygan (16-13) in the opener at 12:30 p.m.
For the Eskymos, the x-factor is their youth. Escanaba holds an advantage in speed and baserunning, but the team has been prone to untimely mistakes throughout the season.
In the team's final regular season game, a 4-3 loss to the Gladstone
Indians, the Eskymos committed four errors, two of which led directly to runs.
"Errors have concerned me all year. We've worked on it in practice and we've worked hard on it. It's hard to put your finger on it though. These kids bust their butts and work hard, but every time we seem to make a mistake, it costs us and turns into a big inning," said Esky manager Kirk Schwalbach.
Out of the three possible opponents in the district, Cheboygan is the only team Escanaba has not faced this season. Last season, the Chiefs eliminated Escanaba on the strength of pitcher Damien Proctor. Proctor tore his ACL earlier this year and is believed to be out for districts, although Schwalbach said he may have heard otherwise.
"Someone told me, he's pitching. I don't know how if he tore his ACL. He's supposed to be out a year. I looked last night and I couldn't find out," he said.
Schwalbach added that no matter what, his team is preparing for a strong arm.
"I know we'll have to hit the baseball. It doesn't matter who's throwing, we're going to prepare for someone who can pitch well. Hopefully hard throwing Matt Weyers (of Gladstone) prepared us for anyone we'll face in districts."
Schwalbach said he'll likely be thinking about who to send to the mound in game 1 right up until game time.
"I'm debating who will start. I pitched four guys on Wednesday to give them some work. It's going to be a gut feeling. Right now, that gut feeling is Alex DeHaan, but it's not set in stone yet," he said.
"You do have to go with your best guy in the first game though. if you save a guy for a rainy day (second game) what does it do? I'm sure everyone is taking that approach. We don't really have a first guy, second guy. With Ben Kleiman, Dave Falish, Alex DeHaan, Jeff Lyle, Austin Young, and Andrew Sedlar we have some options."
Asked if that was a good problem to have, Schwalbach said "I wish I had an ace where I could say 'this is our stud.' I wish I had a Justin Verlander, but I don't and our kids have pitched well. Pitching is not what has hurt us this year. We need big innings, we need to get our bats going."
For Escanaba to advance it will need to utilize it's advantages and minimize mistakes.
"Our speed is going to help. With Kleiman, Falish, Cam Beversluis, Young and Nick Vandermissen we have speed that will help. Guys need to get on base and anything can happen," Schwalbach said.
"I'm more worried about mistakes, because of our youth. We can't make those mistakes against good teams, but at the same time, I don't feel we'll have to play out our minds to beat anyone in this district. If we play horrible, there's no chance, but there's no one we can't play with.
"We haven't won the district in two years, so it would be nice for the seniors to go out with a district title, so we'll see."