ESCANABA - The Escanaba Cubs are facing a team they're familiar with and the Gladstone Indians will meet an unfamiliar opponent in Thursday's Class A state American Legion baseball openers in Marquette.
Opening ceremonies begin at 9 a.m., followed by a contest between Esky (16-14) and Menominee (12-24) at 10. Gladstone (38-10) then faces defending champ Hudson (21-18) at 10:30.
Esky is fresh from winning last weekend's Zone 5 tourney at Sault Ste. Marie. The Cubs, however, dropped a 5-2 decision to Menominee in pool play.
"After getting beat by Menominee in the Sault, we certainly won't be looking past them," said Esky manager Tom Ohman. "We have to give Menominee credit. They got two wins in a tough bracket. They're playing well.
"I was very pleased with our performance up there. Overall, I thought we played real well. We pitched and hit very well. Right now, we have healthy arms. We're not walking as many people as we did early in the year, but we made some defensive mistakes. We need to clean those up."
Trent Schwalbach will likely be the starting pitcher against Menominee, with Devin Olson, Matt Jensen, Ben Kleiman and Alex DeHaan as possible starters at any time.
Offensive leaders are Schwalbach and Austin Young, who also anchors the outfielder in center.
"Trent was a fantastic captain last weekend," said Ohman. "We have nine kids leaving after this year. After our loss to Menominee we told them we needed their leadership and experience. They're the ones we're riding. It seems like our team is peaking at the right time. I think the kids deserve the opportunity to make a run."
Winner of the Esky/Menominee match-up meets Kingsford (28-19) Thursday at 2 p.m. The loser returns to Gerard Haley Memorial Field Friday at 10:30 a.m.
"Kingsford is a very good hitting team," said Ohman. "If you make mistakes, they'll usually jump on them. There's potential for some close games. We've had a couple good days of practice. I think the kids are ready to go
"We're leaving for Marquette on Wednesday (today). We're hoping the kids can get a couple extra hours of sleep. Plus, we don't have to make the drive up there Thursday morning. They (motels) have good rates and they're paid for by the state. You've got to take advantage of that."
Gladstone manager Jim Groleau has been online trying to find information on Hudson, but to no avail.
"We know nothing about them whatsoever," he said. "We'll just have to show up, play our game and see what happens."
Gladstone (38-10) reached the semifinals of the zone tourney last week where they dropped a 7-6 decision to Esky. The Indians committed six errors in that contest.
"We hit the ball very well last weekend," said Groleau. "Only, our fielding let us down. We also need better pitching out of our No. 3 and 4 pitchers. I think the kids know they have to play better this weekend in order to have a chance."
Gladstone will likely start Matt Weyers or Blake Ballard on the mound in the opener, with Justin Jurek also a capable starter or reliever.
Offensively, Cody Frazer, Paul Tomaszewski and Peyton Jurek have been steady hitters, with Hayden Hardwick and Jared Stenson providing power in the Indians' lineup.
The Gladstone/Hudson winner faces host Marquette Blue (45-20) Thursday at 6. The loser resumes Friday at 10 a.m.