With the Minnesota State High School League state baseball tournament in full swing, the Marshall Legion baseball team is set to start its own annual tournament. Today marks the opening of the 15th annual pairing of the Mudcats and wood bats for the US Bank Mid-Summer Classic wood bat tournament.
Over the next three days, Legion Field and Southwest Minnesota State University's Alumni Field will play host to 15 games, as the tournament field expands to eight teams, including long-time participants West Fargo and Albany.
Three newcomers to the crop of competing teams will join the Mudcats in Pool A, as Springfield, Waconia and Willmar join the tournament. West Fargo, Albany, Watertown (S.D.) and Marshall VFW Blue form Pool B. Cold Spring, part of the Mudcats' new district for 2013 along with Waconia, Willmar and Litchfield, was scheduled to take part in the tournament, but qualified for the MSHSL Class AAA state tournament, too. Rocori High School advanced to the semifinals with a 3-2 win over Lakeville North in St. Paul on Thursday. Also in the high school state tournament is perennial Mid-Summer Classic competitor Coon Rapids. The No. 1 seeded Cardinals no-hit Wayzata in 2-0 quarterfinal win on Thursday and play Mounds View in a semifinal today.
Marshall Blue filled Cold Spring's spot and opens play at Legion Field tonight with a 5 p.m. game against Watertown. The Mudcats, meanwhile, play Springfield at 7:30 p.m. in the Legion Field night cap. Over at Alumni Field, Willmar faces Waconia and Metro Fargo takes on Albany at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., respectively.
Along with the new teams being introduced to the proceedings, the Mudcats will also introduce new head coach Jeremy Ische to the realm of wood bat baseball. Ische, an assistant coach under Paul Blanchard at SMSU, adds the Mudcats to an already impressive coaching rsum.
"I coached many fall leagues through the Minnesota Blizzard Academy, probably three of those fall leagues I've done, and I've really enjoyed it," Ische said. "I'm an assistant here at SMSU. I had some experience last year with the St. Cloud Technical and Community College going to the College World Series, which was a pretty cool experience as well."
Despite never playing in a wood bat tournament, Ische still considers Legion baseball some of the best of his life. "I played Legion for five years. I was young enough to be able to come back after my freshman year of college and play," Ische said. "I think Legion is some of the most fun baseball you'll play in your entire life, just based off the high school season being over. You can close that chapter and really focus on a new one. It's a new beginning, it's a fresh start and you're playing with your buddies. From my experience, I really enjoyed Legion baseball and the experiences that it brought me."
The 2011 graduate of St. Cloud State University and 2007 graduate of Norwood-Young America High School has already guided the Mudcats to a pair of wins on the season. Ische and the Mudcats will look to add to that total with guaranteed games against Springfield, Waconia and Willmar today and Saturday.
The top two teams from each pool advance to Sunday morning's semifinals, with the championship game to immediately follow the conclusion of the second semifinal.