Tournament time already: Marquette-, Negaunee-, Ishpeming-based teams play in Under-19 baseball event this weekend in Delta County
“We have 16 or 17 players, basically the entire team back from last year with three additions.” — Derek Swajanen, Marquette Blues manager, on his U-19 entry playing around 40 games in barely a month this summer
MARQUETTE — Marquette, Negaunee and Ishpeming are among the nine teams playing in Upper Peninsula Baseball’s Under-19 tournament at three locations in Delta County starting late Friday afternoon and running throughout this weekend.
The teams are American Legion-based teams, and while they’re aren’t playing under the Legion banner this summer, they will use Legion baseball rules.
The tourney is meant to kick off a quick, month-long season, though the Marquette tournament team — call them the Blues, like in Legion baseball — already has
“We’ve been practicing for about a week getting ready for (tonight) and this weekend,” Blues manager Derek Swajanen said. “We have 16 or 17 players, basically the entire team back from last year with three additions — a couple of 6(-foot)-5 pitchers in Clayton Smith and Eli Werner, and also Eric Johnson, who’s coming back to us from Negaunee.”
Swajanen feels his team, which he says has about 40 games on its schedule in that compressed time frame, could be the class of the Upper Peninsula this summer after playing in the Class A state Legion tournament in Gladwin last July and being involved in three one-run games against downstate teams — a 3-2 win over the host Lightning and two eight-inning losses to traditional powerhouse Rosebush, 9-8 and 2-1.
“I was so disappointed when I heard the state (American Legion) tournament was canceled,” the Blues’ manager said. “I really think we had a good enough team that we really should’ve made it at least to the state championship game this year.”
The team will include top-notch pitchers Blake Henriksen, Kyle Frusti and Brendan Kaski; catcher Jakob Peterson; solid-hitting Hogan Nemetz, Connor Steer, Jacob Allard-Soucey and Peter VandenAmond; and third-baseman Jon Jason, who also pitched six innings of no-hit ball in one of the tournament games last summer.
Getting back to the state tournament last year after several seasons of being away, Swajanen gave some of the credit for that turnaround to re-establishing its Marquette Reds team for younger players.
“We have 18 players on the Reds, so we could almost have made up three teams this summer,” the manager said about this summer’s lineup, adding that the Reds will play around 30 games.
He and Mark Pantti, a longtime Marquette and District 11 Little League official, will coach both teams with Pantti considered the head man for the Reds and Swajanen for the Blues.
“They’re quite a young team,” Swajanen said of the Reds, “but with their numbers, the future looks bright for the whole program.”
While the Reds won’t be entered in this weekend’s tourney, they do have a pair of doubleheaders this week — at Menominee on Wednesday and at Bark River on Thursday.
In the tourney, Escanaba and Gladstone play each of their four games at their respective home fields, with a third field in nearby Wells also being utilized.
The rest of the field includes Bark River, Iron Mountain, Copper Country and Menominee.
The schedule has been juggled multiple times, according to Pantti, with the latest schedule accurate as of Monday afternoon.
Negaunee — known as the Diamonds in Legion play — and Ishpeming — they’ve been the Blue Storm in the past — each get their doubleheaders in on Friday, including a game against each other in Wells at 4:30 p.m. Ishpeming stays in Wells to play Iron Mountain at 7:15 p.m., while at the same time Negaunee shifts over to Gladstone to play Menominee.
Marquette opens its tourney at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Gladstone.
The Blues play a doubleheader in Wells on Saturday, facing Ishpeming at 1 p.m. and Iron Mountain at 4 p.m. That day, Negaunee also plays at Gladstone at 4 p.m.
On Sunday, each Marquette County team plays one game. At 11 a.m., Marquette plays the Copper Country Flames in Gladstone, while Negaunee is at Escanaba. At 2 p.m., Ishpeming then tackles Escanaba.
Diamonds manager Jason Siik and Ishpeming manager E.J. Kostreva weren’t able to be reached in time for this story.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.