TRAPROCK VALLEY - They are the northend's boys of summer, headed for two different state tournaments this week trying to make their mark throughout Michigan.
The Keweenaw Little League is sending both its Minor (age 9-10) and age 10-11 All-Star teams downstate.
The Minor All-Stars play their first game of pool play in Kalamazoo tonight against Traverse City West, while the 10-11s will wait until next Friday for their opportunity on the state stage in West Branch.
Manager Adam Loukus leads his Keweenaw Little League Minor (age 9-10)?All-Stars in a cheer while breaking the huddle after a scrimmage against the Keweenaw 10-11-year-old All-Stars Tuesday morning at Loukus Field in Traprock Valley.?Both teams are headed to state tournaments downstate, with the Minors opening play tonight against Traverse City West in Kalamazoo. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
The Minors are hoping for a continuation of a magical run through the district tournament in L'Anse that included three wins in the last inning.
"It seems like there's a different hero each game, or that's what it turned into," manager Adam Loukus said.
They may have been born in the 21st century, but they've shown skill beyond their years, on display during a scrimmage between the two teams Tuesday. Cut-off men were hit, grounders were skillfully scooped up and turned into putouts and hitters connected to the fences.
"I've got like seven years of batting practice with my dad and I developed really quick hands, so I can hit it to the right, middle or left," Drake Schmitz said.
Loukus said pitching has been a strength so far.
"They can play anywhere and they continue to get better," he said.
"The biggest thing is limiting mistakes. The team that makes less mistakes, with evenly matched teams, will be successful."
Keweenaw will play three pool play games in hopes of advancing to the knockout phase Monday through Wednesday.
As for the older group, their district title came a little easier, by winning a best-of-three game series against Portage Lake at Hancock Driving Park.
"If they continue to do what they did in the series against Portage, we should have some success," manager Mike Ojala said.
He summed it up as throwing strikes and making plays behind the pitchers.
"Like, we've told them all the time, turn singles into singles, doubles into doubles, outs into outs. That's all we can hope for," he said.
That focus on defense isn't just coached, it's been taken to heart.
"Defense is awesome," said Daniel Tarnowski, who said he preferred it to hitting.
And if they get behind, Tarnowski said his team may be as good at the comeback as their younger brethren, saying their strength was "scoring runs in the late innings, at least that's what I think."