ASHWAUBENON, Wis. — Navigating through the Ash Port Regional Legion baseball tournament could be smooth sailing, a quick exit and anything in between.

Marinette Legion will open regional play today at 5 p.m. against the Green Bay Shockers at Ashwabamay Park.

The Green Bay Blue Jays will play host Ash Port at tonight 8 in the other first-round matchup.

Legion games are extended from seven to nine innings for the postseason, so there’s a premium on pitching depth. Winning the opener is important, too. A first-round loss means a long and winding road to the championship. Two straight wins advances a team into the championship game of the double-elimination tourney.

Ash Port is the defending AAA state champion. The Green Bay Shockers (15-8) finished ahead of Ash Port in the Fox Valley Legion League Central Division. Marinette reeled off nine straight wins on its way to the North Division title. The Blue Jays finished 2-10 in the Central Division, but have had their moments.

“I really think going into tomorrow, anybody can win it,” Shockers coach Matt Zittlow said.

“There’s certainly not a clear-cut favorite,” Marinette coach Brian Lesandrini said.

The winner advances to the AAA state tourney, to be held in Plover July 30-Aug. 3.

Marinette will open against the Shockers today at 5 p.m. at Ashwabamay Park. At Menominee’s Father’s Day Tournament, the Shockers rallied for an 8-7 win over Marinette.

“They’re a good hitting team,” Lesandrini said.
It’s pitching and defense that will separate the teams.

“If we can pick up the ball and throw it, we’ll be in a pretty decent position to win it,” Zittlow said. “Sometimes we get a little loose defensively.”

The Shockers’ Bryan Wendtland won the division batting title with a .556 average. Andy Peterik was second at .480.

Ash Port, which split with the Shockers this summer, has three players back from last season’s juggernaut.

“It’s a little different from last year but there is a sense that we’re the defending state champions. We want to get after it,” Ash Port coach Adam Kilp said. “We want to continue on with the success the Ash Port program has had.”

Ash Port started fast and finished strong. In between, the team struggled through the dog days of summer. Kilp credits Mac Cisar and Jacob Heinden for providing much-needed leadership that helped turn the season around.

The Blue Jays have a couple of .300 hitters, Tyler VanDenHoogen and Brad Van Pay. Colin Shaw (3.50 earned run average) leads the pitching staff.

Ash Port’s top pitchers are Ryan Frieder (2.63 ERA) and Jake Heinzen (2.86 ERA). Cole Hanson led the offense in league play with a .407 average and Heinzen batted .385.

Marinette also has a division batting champ, leadoff hitter Derek Klegin (.559). Klegin led the division in runs, hits, total bases and slugging percentage (.794). Jake Sawinski hit .419, Austin Wright .321 and Kiefer Powers .313.

Sawinski also posted a great ERA, 1.91, in four games. Ales Gressel’s ERA is 1.94, and Powers posted a 1.56 ERA. Wright, the Post 39 staff ace, has a 2.00 ERA.

“Certainly it’s going to test your pitching,” Lesandrini said of the nine-inning regional format. “Your starters need good control. The pitching depth comes into play when you get into that loser’s bracket.”

Tonight’s winners will meet on Friday at 8 p.m., while first-round losers will play Friday at 5.

“You need to play as a team and play a full nine innings and execute in all phases of the game,” Lesandrini said.