MENOMINEE - The Hancock Post 186 American Legion baseball team punched its ticket to the state tournament Thursday, securing a top-three finish in the Upper Peninsula Class A zone tourney with a 5-1 triumph over the Marquette Blues.
Hancock (16-14) returns to Spies Field today at 5 (EDT) to face Gladstone (26-18-1), which also qualified by rallying past Menominee 5-4 in nine innings Thursday night.
The winner of today's contest advances to the championship round, which starts Saturday at 5. The loser resumes Saturday at 2.
Hancock's latest victory comes on the heels of Wednesday's 4-2 conquest of Channing.
"We wanted to get these two," said Hancock manager Nels Paul. "For us to stay out of the loser's bracket was huge."
Hancock opened the scoring in the first on Ty LaDuron's two-run homer to leftfield.
"A hit like that is really going to pump up your pitcher, especially when he's the one to get that hit," said Paul. "We did a little bit of everything on offense, including some small ball. Every bunt we attempted, we put down."
Marquette trimmed its deficit in half in the third on McKinley Larson's double to left.
Hancock, however, answered with a pair of runs for a 4-1 advantage in the fourth when they took advantage of an error and a walk.
Hancock finished the scoring on a bases-loaded walk to Beau Dupuis in the fifth.
LaDuron pitched the entire contest, firing a three-hitter. He struck out eight, walked six and hit a batter.
"I think Ty mixed his pitches well," said Paul. "Ty seemed to tire in the last inning, but he's a gamer. He got us out of that inning. When you hold the Blues to one run, you pitched a great game. They have a lot of offensive weapons on that team. Every time they seemed to be gaining a little momentum, our guys came up with a great defensive play."
Hancock managed four hits off a trio of Marquette pitchers.
Trevor Bratonia, who faced the first eight Hancock hitters, absorbed the loss. He walked one and gave up two runs on two hits.
Derek Stone had two hits for Marquette, which stranded eight baserunners in the contest.
"That was a poor excuse for execution on our part," said Marquette manager Derek Swajanen. "We had guys in scoring position in five or six innings. We were also swinging at pitches over our head and committed too many errors on defense."
Marquette, which faces Escanaba in an elimination game today at 2, finished with three miscues. Hancock had one.
"I thought Brad (Juntunen) had a great game behind the plate," said Paul. "He has a quick release and gunned out three players. Also, Alex (VanWagner) had a sliding catch in center to get us out of the second inning. That was a huge play."
The victory guaranteed Hancock at least two more games in the zone tourney before heading to the state tournament, which starts Aug. 1 at Adrian College.