Shining brightly: Negaunee Diamonds win Mid-Pen League American Legion baseball tourney by beating Marquette Blues in championship

AJ Suardini of the Negaunee Diamonds pitches during the American Legion baseball championship game of the Mid-Pen League playoffs against the Marquette Blues at Haley Memorial Field in Marquette on Sunday. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

MARQUETTE — The sun may have been beaming onto Haley Memorial Field on Sunday evening, but it was the Negaunee Diamonds who shined the brightest.

With the help of some timely hitting and solid pitching from A.J. Suardini, the Negaunee American Legion baseball team took home the Mid-Pen League championship with a 5-3 victory in the finals over the Marquette Blues.

“It was nice to see the bats going early and get a few runs right away,” Negaunee assistant coach Kyle Sexton said. “Everybody stepped up in their own way. It was pretty much a whole team effort. We did a great job.

“A.J. had great stuff today. He threw strikes and that’s what we needed. Get some strikes and have our defense field the ball and get some outs for us.”

In the other dugout, the Blues were frustrated by missing some good opportunities and just didn’t look good in the eyes of Marquette manager Derek Swajanen.

Jacob Peterson of the Marquette Blues readies to swing against the Negaunee Diamonds during the American Legion baseball championship game of the Mid-Pen League playoffs at Haley Memorial Field in Marquette on Sunday. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

“We had the bases loaded and nobody out in the first inning and luckily, they hit one of our batters and we got one run out of it,” Swajanen said. “Then we had a couple of other times when we were in a good situation with (runners on) first or second or whatever and I told the guys that you’ve got to let the at-bats develop.

“He walked the first guy up there and then an outside pitch we’re trying to pull and it’s a tailor-made double-play ball. This field is made to attack right field and one of the right-handers hit a ball to right field all day. You’re not going to win a game that way.

“We hit two or three that were hard to left, but it’s 380 feet into the power alley with the wind blowing in off the lake. You’re not going to make hay that way.

“Fink (Garrett Finkbeiner) wasn’t very good today. I’m not going to lie. He wasn’t crisp and he hit two batters right away to lead off an inning. That’s the difference in the game. You’ve got to play good baseball and we didn’t play good baseball the second game here.”

Earlier in the day, Marquette defeated Copper Country and Negaunee Menominee in semifinal games, a schedule pushed back from a rainout on Saturday.

In the finals, Marquette scored first with a run in the bottom of the opening inning, but Negaunee answered back in the second. With one out, Tanner Peterson drew a walk, and three batters later, he came around to score on a hit by Taylor Laurin. The Diamonds had a good chance to take the lead, but Finkbeiner got out of the jam by getting Carter Richardson to ground into a double play.

In the third, Negaunee did take the lead. Keenan Johnson and James Bender were both hit by pitches with Johnson scoring on an error. After that, Peterson drove in Bender with a single to left and the Diamonds padded their advantage to 3-1.

In the fourth, the Diamonds get their offense rolling as Suardini and Laurin led off with back-to-back singles. Richardson followed with a sharp single up the middle that scored both runners for a 5-1 advantage.

Marquette cut its deficit back to two runs in the bottom of the fifth. With the bases loaded, Jakob Peterson scored when Tyler Delmont was hit by a pitch, and soon after that, Jon Jason scored on a sacrifice fly by Alec Gadzinski. But that’s the closest the Blues would get.

“It has been awhile and it feels great because we beat some good teams today,” Sexton said. “I like how everyone just fought through it. We’re feeling great right now.”

Both teams will take part in today’s 7 p.m. league all-star game at Negaunee, not 6 p.m. as previously reported. Then both teams begin Zone 5 tournament play Thursday in Escanaba.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.