HANCOCK - In a year of ups and downs, the Hancock Post 186 American Legion baseball team landed squarely in the middle at 14-14.
With postseason play beginning Wednesday, Hancock's 0-0 and optimistic about its chances in the American Legion Zone 5 Tournament in Menominee
"To come out .500, I think that turned out pretty well. It was what we were shooting for, and I'm pretty pleased with it," Hancock manager Nels Paul said.
Hancock Post 186’s Cole Jepsen lays down a bunt in a June game against Gladstone at Hancock Driving Park. Hancock begins play in the Zone 5 tournament Wednesday in Menominee. (DMG photo by Brandon Veale)
Hancock lost six starters off a team that went 31-9 last season and had its struggles. In the midst of several split doubleheaders in Mid-Pen League play, Hancock didn't generate a lot of momentum positive or negative throughout the season until the league tournament. Hancock dismissed Channing and Marquette in consecutive games before getting outslugged by Kingsford for the championship. All three teams could figure in Hancock's Zone tournament run.
"If we can get by those teams, I really like our chances a lot," Paul said.
Given the losses from the year before, one of the big questions going into the season was developing pitching depth. Tyler LaDuron and Mike Saari coming back gave Hancock a strong foundation to build on, but others have had to step up.
One of those has been Brady Turner, who was named MVP of the championship game of a tournament in Newberry earlier this month after five innings of solid relief. He's also clocked some solid starts, including a complete-game win over Gladstone and a complete-game two-hit shutout of Ishpeming.
Paul said the team's hitting has been a pleasant surprise as well, with Alex VanWagner recording an average over .400 with high on-base percentage, good power from LaDuron and Dax Durocher and strong contributions from less-heralded players like Brad Juntunen and Beau Dupuis.
Hancock faces Channing in its opener Wednesday afternoon, then will play Marquette or Kingsford pending the outcome of both games. The nine-team tournament is fully double-elimination and goes until the championship game Sunday. The last three teams remaining qualify for the state tournament in downstate Hudson.
"I think it'll come down to piching and defense. If our pitchers throw strikes, I think we'll be fine," Paul said.