‘We have a conference’

Esky, Gladstone join first year of GNC baseball

Daily Press file photo Escanaba second baseman Courage Krueger (right) attempts to tag Gladstone’s Caden Alworden (6), while Esky shortstop Craig Kamin (left) trails the play during a 2018 game at Gladstone. 2019 will be the first year of the Great Northern Conference for baseball, which includes usual suspects Escanaba, Gladstone, Marquette, Kingsford and Menominee.

ESCANABA — There is an exciting change on the diamond this spring, as this is the first year of the Great Northern Conference coming together for baseball.

The conference will be made up of the same five teams as in other sports, consisting of Escanaba, Gladstone, Marquette, Kingsford and Menominee.

Esky coach Scott Hanson said it was decided to put the conference together sometime last fall, citing that it only logically made sense to put it together because these schools play each other anyways. Menominee is in just its second year of the program, and Kingsford is in its third year.

“Basically, once we got all the GNC schools it became logical to do it,” Hanson said. “I guess the biggest thing for me is conference games are different than non-conference because it gives the kids something to play for prior to districts. Basically, we were all playing each other anyways, so it came down to coming up with a format. We play each other three times — one being a single game and the other being a doubleheader. Then next year you’d flip that. That’s basically how it’s set up.”

Esky, Gladstone and Marquette have had programs for a while, but were waiting on Menominee and Kingsford to come up with programs before forming a conference.

“That’s the reason we haven’t had a conference and that’s why we’re doing it now. I think it’s really exciting,” Braves’ coach Kelly Shea said. “We have conferences for every other sport. Scott was the one who first told me there would be a GNC when he found out I was going to be the head coach.”

Hanson said coaches and athletic directors talked about doing it last year, but were waiting for Menominee to kind of get its feet wet. Then last fall the athletic directors decided to do it when they met for scheduling.

“Last fall we put some ideas down on paper, so it was probably last fall when we decided to do it. Conference A.D.’s started talking about it, and you have to do it before your scheduling. Schedules are done in the fall and early part of winter,” Hanson said.

“It’ll be great to have the full conference. There was some talk about doing it last year, but we wanted Menominee to get their feet wet before we threw that on them. It’s just natural for us to play them anyways. It wasn’t that hard, we just had to be a little bit organized.”

As is the case with anything, there will be some kinks to work out in the first year.

“The only confusion we’ve had is some teams just like to play two doubleheaders, and then the fourth game wouldn’t count — it would be considered non-conference. The issue is getting those games in and not everyone has lights. We went with the current format just to make sure we get those in,” Hanson said.

“One of our biggest issues is going to be, ‘what happens if we do have bad weather?’ I think everyone has that issue. Some teams end up cancelling games to get their conference games in. It’s really hard to move games and make-up games once you get into May. You gotta be careful as an A.D. when you’re scheduling. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. Hopefully after this week the weather turns and we have a nice six-week stretch but it’s the U.P. and there’s no guarantee.”

Both coaches cited they will have to make some adjustments and their players are excited for it.

“We’re really going to have adjust our pitching because every game is going to be important,” Shea said. “There’s a lot more at stake now for when we play these games. To win the GNC for the first year — that would be our number one priority right off the bat.”

Hanson also said a positive to having a conference is it’s another way to recognize players for their achievements.

“Part of it is to give the kids something to play for and for an all-conference team. It’s an extra opportunity to get kids recognized because there’s a lot of kids up here who are talented and deserve recognition,” he said.

“I think the kids are excited about it. They’re so used to having it in all the other sports. Definitely one of our goals is to compete for it, and it’s definitely something we’ve talked about as a team. Hopefully it goes smoothly because it makes sense to do it.”

Hanson said this year will be an indicator to see how it goes, and will give everyone an idea of what needs to be changed in the future.

“This year is more feeling out how it’s gonna go. All of our teams have scheduled pretty heavy on the weekend. Pitching in general becomes a pretty big deal. We pitched seven different kids at the Wisconsin Dells in three games last weekend, and we better have 7-9 kids who can throw in conference games. It’s on coaches to develop kids who can throw, but it’s very difficult — not everyone can throw,” he said. “Everyone is open to change long-term. We’ll see what needs to be fixed and work out the bugs later.”