Indians begin state title defense this weekend

GLADSTONE — The Gladstone Indians baseball team has a chance to do something special this season, beginning the year as two-time defending Class A American Legion state champions.

But for now, it’s all about this weekend’s season opening Gregg Johnson/Al Erickson Memorial tournament. The Indians open their season tonight vs. DePere, Wis. at 8.

“I think it’s in the back of everyone’s head trying to get the third one,” Indians’ fourth-year manager Justin Jurek said. “But our major focus is on the Gregg Johnson after winning it two years ago. We’re just going to focus on this one before trying to win any other tournament.”

The Indians’ 13-man roster returns nearly half of last year’s title winning squad. Returning players include pitchers Jared Crow and Jacob Rogers and outfielder Dan Martin.

“Jared Crow was one of our go-to guys last year and Jacob Rogers is another one. Those will be our top two pitchers for the most part,” Jurek said. “Dan Martin was one of our big hitters last year that will be returning this year.”

Jurek also expects a couple of other guys to have breakthrough seasons.

“Caden Alworden did everything we asked of him last year. He played a big role that went unnoticed, and I’m excited to see what he can do this year,” Jurek said. “Ian Schwalbach made a big step from two years ago to last year, so I’m excited to see what he can do, too.”

Many of the players on the Legion team made it to the state semifinals at the high school level last week after helping Gladstone win another regional title.

“It’s huge for them to have that postseason experience before coming into our season,” Jurek said. Despite the success at the high school level, Jurek says Legion baseball is a different type of game the players have to adjust to. He wants to see execution early in the season.

“The biggest thing for me is execution of what we’re trying to do,” Jurek said. “Typically, in years past we’ve played a little different style than what we’ve played in high school.”

For the Indians to have a shot at a third straight state title, it will take the new guys buying in. Jurek says the Indians have enough depth on the roster, although it’s not ideal.

“It seems like every year there’s a handful of kids that don’t play that surprise us. Our numbers aren’t quite where we want them to be, but it’s enough to be competitive at least,” he said. “I think just continuing to have the team buy in is the biggest thing. We return half of our team from last year, but at the same time almost half of our team are new players. Getting them to buy in is the biggest thing, and then moving forward from there.”

The schedule:

June 20-23 — Gregg Johnson/Al Erickson home tournament

June 25 — Marquette

June 28-30 — at Marinette tournament

July 3 — Escanaba

July 5-7 — at Antigo tournament

July 9 — at Bayport

July 10 — Menominee

July 11 — at Escanaba

July 14 — at Green Bay

July 17-21 — Legion Zones home tournament

July 24-28 — State tournament at Gladwin