GLADWIN - The Escanaba Cubs are hoping to recapture last year's magic, where they made a deep run to the state final of the American Legion Class A state tournament.
The Gladstone Indians remain optimistic about winning a state championship. Especially since the Indians are riding the momentum of winning the Class A Zone American Legion tournament, held last weekend in Marquette.
Both teams appear ready to contend at the Legion Class A state tournament in Gladwin, beginning tonight.
Last year, Escanaba, a sub-.500 team, peaked at the right time, defeating Gladstone 1-0 in the state semifinal, and advancing to the state final, before falling 4-3 to Hudson.
Escanaba head coach Tom Ohman believes his team has another deep run in them this year.
"I think we can," Ohman said about Esky making a run at the title. "We're playing pretty well right now. We have a few little mistakes we can't afford to make. We just have to make sure we make plays."
The Cubs will open play today at 9 a.m., against Petoskey. Escanaba fell to Petoskey 4-3, earlier this season.
"The first game is always the tough one," Ohman said. "The nerves are high and hopefully you can get them out early on and just play baseball."
Escanaba will be without pitcher Andrew Sedlar, who broke his wrist last week during practice. They will be looking to lean on Brandon Punzel, who pitched a three-hit shutout against Marquette, last weekend, in a 6-0 Cubs victory.
"No doubt we will miss a quality pitcher in Sedlar, but maybe we can bring something home for him," Ohman said. " We're hoping Brandon Punzel will continue to step up. The way he threw against Marquette, if we can get another performance like that out of him, that would be huge."
As is always the case for Escanaba, or any other team, defense will be an important factor in just how far this team can advance.
"Our biggest thing is to not make errors," Ohman said. "We won't have 15 hits a game so it's important that we play good defense and don't make any errors."
In addition to Punzel, Escanaba will look to get big performances out of ace pitcher Devin Olsen, David Falish- who was named last year's state tourney MVP, Nick Vandermissen, and Tyler Skufca.
If Escanaba is able to advance, they will face Gladstone in the next round. After earning the No. 1 seed, Gladstone earned a bye, meaning they will await the winner of Escanaba and Petoskey, at 3 p.m. today.
Gladstone defeated Escanaba 5-3 in the Class A Zone tournament final, giving the Indians a 4-0 record against the Cubs, this season.
"I like our chances," Gladstone head coach Jim Groleau said about his team winning a state title. "We really came together last weekend. Our pitching has carried us as usual, but now we're starting to hit the ball."
Expect Sam Pouliot, Jake Peterson, Hunter Garling, and Christian Tackman, to shoulder the pitching load for the Indians.
In the other part of the bracket, Hudson opens up play against Marquette at noon, with the winner going on to face Gladwin at 6 p.m.
The Indians already have the experience of playing the majority of the tournament field, having defeated three of the five other teams in the tournament.
"The kids know we can compete" Groleau said. "I just hope to put it all together one last time. It should be interesting to say the least."