ESCANABA - The Escanaba Cubs may have found a combination that works and the Gladstone Indians hope to continue their strong play into the Upper Peninsula American Legion zone tournament, which begins Wednesday in Menominee.
Defending champ Esky opens with a 1 p.m. (EDT) contest with Ishpeming. Gladstone then faces the Sault Ste. Marie-based Eastern U.P. Travelers at 5.
Esky (8-15) is fresh from Saturday's 10-3 victory over Kingsford in a nine-inning game which both teams pitched by committee. The Cubs used six pitchers and Kingsford sent four to the hill in that contest.
"If we're going to stay in the tournament, we'll need to mix up arms," said Esky manager Tom Ohman. "Hopefully, that will make it harder for opposing teams to adjust. We have a lot of kids who can throw, but most have a hard time throwing seven innings. You have to play each game like it's your last. We just can't boot the ball around and give them (Ishpeming) a chance."
The winner of Wednesday's opener faces the host Red Wave at 7.
Esky faced Menominee once this season, winning 10-0 at home in five innings on July 8.
"I like the idea of playing another game that night," said Ohman. "Although, Menominee will be tough on their field."
Ben Kleiman, who has pitched at least three shutouts this season, is Esky's ace.
"Ben has had a real good season on the hill, but our hitting has been sporadic," said Ohman.
Hitting hasn't been as much a problem for Gladstone, idle since July 13 when it dropped a 5-1 decision to Kingsford in the Mid-Peninsula League semifinals at Channing.
Cody Frazer is hitting at least .450 and Hayden Hardwick is averaging more than .400 for the Indians (24-18-1), who failed to get the timely hits in their lone league tourney appearance.
"Cody, Hayden, Justin Jurek and Jake Pearson give us four quality bats, and Christian Groleau and Hunter Garling have had their moments," said Gladstone manager Jim Groleau. "But we need everybody to hit consistently. It has basically been the tale of two seasons for us. We spent the first part of our season playing with seventh and eighth-graders, then the high school kids jumped right in and helped right away when they returned.
We're hoping that getting some rest will help refuel our tanks. These kids have played nearly 60 games this year, including the high school season. We also had the injury bug for a while, but we should be healthy and ready to go this week."
Gladstone rallied past the EUP Travelers 3-2 in nine innings at home in the opening round of the Gregg Johnson Memorial tournament on June 21.
"Last I heard, they had won 15 of their last 16 games," Groleau said of the Travelers. "When you put a string together like that, you're playing real good ball. I know they're a well coached team. They'll be very well prepared. We'll have to play real good ball to beat them. I think our pitching will hold up in any game. But we have to hit the ball."
If Gladstone wins, it will return to Spies Field Thursday at 7 to face Esky, Menominee or Ishpeming. A Travelers' victory would force the Indians into the loser's bracket for a 2 p.m. game on Thursday.
"We didn't get a real favorable draw," said Groleau. "But if we play up to our capabilities, we have as good chance as anybody."