Legion old and new

Mark Johnson | Daily Press The Gladstone Indians team and coaches pose with the American Legion Class A Zone 5 Legion tournament championship trophy following Sunday’s win over Bark River. Both Gladstone and Bark River qualified along withMenominee for the state tournament this week in Menominee.

ESCANABA — The American Legion state baseball tournament is nothing new to the Gladstone Indians. They’re going in as defending champs.

This is uncharted territory for the third-year Bark River Buccaneers, who qualified for the first time.

Both teams are facing unfamiiar opponents in their Class A openers with Gladstone (22-5) meeting Trenton Thursday at 10 a.m. (EDT) followed by the Bark River-Gaylord match-up at 1 p.m. at Spies Field in Menominee.

The Gladstone-Trenton winner then meets Hudson at 4, with the Bark River-Gaylord winner facing the host Red Wave at 7.

“We don’t know much about them,” said Gladstone manager Justin Jurek. “They don’t know much about us either. Having to figure out their tendencies in a game is a challenge, but it also motivates you to play your own style. I don’t think there’s any real advantage for anyone in this tournament.”

Gladstone retained its Zone 5 title with a 6-3 victory over Bark River Sunday. The Bucs (21-15) clinched their state tourney berth with Saturday’s 8-5 triumph over the Eastern U.P. Travelers.

“This is going to be a learning experience for sure,” said Bark River manager Matt Richer. “I think many people are looking at us as the underdog and we’re okay with that. We’re telling the kids to do their job and take it one at-bat at a time. Somebody has to win it. Why not us? We’re just kind of learning on the fly. The biggest thing is for the kids to have fun.”

The Indians plan to throw Jared Crow or Jacob Rogers in Thursday’s opener. Crow is fresh from firing a one-hitter in Saturday’s 4-0 semifinal victory over Marquette.

“Jared threw outstanding against Marquette,” said Jurek. “He has been real consistent all year. Jake has a lot of energy. He keeps the dugout alive by being good on the mound. Tyson Seymour, Cooper Cavadeas and Ben Kelly have also been real steady for us. Pitching I think is the strongest part of our team. Our depth gives us a lot of options.”

Jurek says Seymour, Braeden Lamberg and Dan Martin have been the offensive leaders all season.

“It’s nice to have a leadoff hitter (Lamberg) with a lot of power and speed,” he added. “It’s nice to have consistency and power. We have a few guys who were on the team last year. They’re excited about having a chance to defend. The new guys also want to be part of that. The target is going to be on our back being defending champs, but I think it motivates the team to really play well.”

The Bucs plan to go with their ace, Duane Englund, against Gaylord.

“Duner is our leader,” said Richer. “We enjoy having him on the team and in the dugout. Zach Englund, Logan Heim and Sam Hall have also been pitching well. Every game is crucial. We want to be prepared for everybody. Staying in the winner’s bracket is key. I like our ball club. I think we’re talented enough.”

Matt Richer, Jr. is hitting about .440, prompting the Bucs to move him from seventh to fifth in their batting order. The Englund brothers, Kadin Mustafa and Heim are also hitting better than .400.

“We have some power,” said manager Richer. “We’re also hitting a pretty good percentage.”

Four games are on tap Friday. Saturday’s semifinals are scheduled for 11 a.m., with the championship game to follow.

“We’re in a tough bracket,” said Jurek. “The other bracket is tough, too. We prefer to play the best team right off the bat. You can see what the best team has and how you’re going to handle the rest of the tournament.”