Marinette Legion players and coaches celebrate their Marinette Firecracker Tourney title last month at Pedersen Ball Park. Team members are, from left, front row: coach Dave Klegin, Jake McMahon, Ty Bebo, Scott Eldredge, Derek Klegin and Beau DeLaet; back row: coach Jordan Kinney, Luke Johnson, Aaron Benson, Luke Kelly, Cody Tessmer, Kiefer Powers, Austin Wright, Nate Kallestad and head coach Brian Lesandrini. Not pictured is Austin Belonga. Post 39 will compete in the Class AAA state tournaement at Pedersen Ball Park this week. EagleHerald/Jody Korch
Marinette Legion players and coaches celebrate their Marinette Firecracker Tourney title last month at Pedersen Ball Park. Team members are, from left, front row: coach Dave Klegin, Jake McMahon, Ty Bebo, Scott Eldredge, Derek Klegin and Beau DeLaet; back row: coach Jordan Kinney, Luke Johnson, Aaron Benson, Luke Kelly, Cody Tessmer, Kiefer Powers, Austin Wright, Nate Kallestad and head coach Brian Lesandrini. Not pictured is Austin Belonga. Post 39 will compete in the Class AAA state tournaement at Pedersen Ball Park this week. EagleHerald/Jody Korch
MARINETTE - It's been a long time coming - 11 years - for the Wisconsin Legion AAA state tourney to return to Marinette's baseball crown jewel.

Eight teams will battle at Pedersen Ball Park in the five-day state tourney, which begins Wednesday. Marinette (21-15) qualified as the tourney host. Post 39 will open Wednesday at 7 p.m. against Region 1 champion Eau Claire (27-8).

Games will be played at 10 a.m., 1, 4 and 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. Friday's games will be held at 1, 4 and 7, and the weekend games will be played at 1 and 4. Games are nine innings.

Tickets are $5 per day for adults and $3 for students.

The state tourney will begin with an opening ceremony Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. Corporate and individual sponsors and mayor Denise Ruleau will throw out the first pitch. Teams will line up for the Pledge of Allegience. The Marinette Legion Post 39 color guard will stand in center field for the Star Spangled Banner.

The double-elimination tourney will draw hundreds of out-of-towners for at least a couple of days.

In preparation for state, several improvements were made to Pedersen Ball Park since last fall. The dugouts were extended 11 feet, and new seating was installed. A double batting cage was erected. The scoreboard and public address booth were painted, and the announcer's booth received new plexiglass windows.

"The ballpark is probably in the best shape it's ever been," said Marinette Legion business manager Dale Minzlaff.

Pedersden Park has long been recognized as one of the premier amateur ballparks in the state.

"You've got to credit the grounds crew - John LaCourt and the boys," Minzlaff said. "The only thing we're praying for is great weather."

The state tourney field includes defending champion Madison Impact and defending runner-up AshPort. Marinette lost twice to AshPort this season but swept a doubleheader against state tourney team Sheboygan (28-12).

"We can compete with anybody," Marinette first baseman Luke Kelly said. "We can win if we put everything together."

Slow starts have cost Marinette in recent weeks.

"We've got to come to play right away," Kelly said. "That's why we've lost - we've come out flat."

Post 39 reeled off 11 straight wins in the midseason but went two and out at last week's Green Bay Southwest Regional.

"If we put our pitching, defense and hitting all together, there aren't many teams that can beat us," Kelly said. "During our 11-game win streak, it was the first time we saw that we could do all three things at the same time."

Marinette is practicing today with the intention of getting back on track.

"You've just got to go back to the fundamentals of hitting and pitching," Lesandrini said. "Refocus and re-emphasize those little things. Small things that make a big difference in the postseason."

In recent games, Marinette's pitching has not been as dominant as it was in the midseason.

"We're just missing our spots, getting pitches up, 0-2 pitches getting too much of the plate," according to Lesandrini.

The last time Marinette hosted the state tourney, this year's team members were just beginning to play ball. In the 2002 state tourney, Marinette opened with a 5-1 win over Eau Claire and finished third in the state.

It's the last hurrah for several Post 39 players, including Kelly.

"It's a big deal," he said. "For a lot of us it's our last year playing Legion ball. We've been together since we've been 10 years old. It's really nice to have one more batch of serious games."