Janesville West Legion hunting for victories
That has been the theme for the Janesville West Junior American Legion team in its postseason run to the state tournament.
Janesville West will open up double-elimination play in the U17 State Tournament with a 5 p.m. game Friday against New London at Pedersen Park in Marinette.
Whether it was a 2-1 win over Beloit in regional play, or the dramatic 12-11 come-from-behind victory over Janesville East in the regional title game, the West team is making things happen.
“I think more than anything, we’ve become a consistent team,” Martin said. “This group of kids cares about playing, and really responded when the pressure was on.
“We kind of got off to a slow start, but in the month of July, we’re 13-3.
“And I know beating the Janesville Legion team in the (Mike) Grogan Classic really boosted our confidence. That told us we could play with good teams.”
Janesville West opens the state tournament with a 19-8 record.
Janesville Parker’s Andy Kersten and Trent Kobs, who will both be juniors, are the top two pitchers for the team. Kersten, depending on how the Janesville Legion team does in its regional tournament, will likely start the opener against New London. If Kersten is needed to pitch for the Janesville Legion team, Kobs will get the start.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in both of them,” Martin said. “They both threw pretty well for us in the high school season, and that was against kids that were a year or two older than them.
“Now they’re getting a chance to throw against kids their own age, and they’ve been overpowering at times.”
If Janesville West can make a deep run at state, Conner Long, Marques Emerson, Josh Garcia and Chase Lee are also expected to pitch at some point.
Martin said a steady defense that has made all the routine plays has been a difference-maker in the postseason. Tanner Moe starts at third base, while Hunter Marshall is the shortstop and Jake Welch the second baseman. Kersten plays first when he’s not pitching, and Seo Hernandez is at first when Kersten is on the mound.
“Two things you have to do to have success in tournament play is pitch and play defense,” Martin said, “and for the most part, we’ve done that.”
The outfield will have Garcia in left, Kobs in center and Matt Fiedler in right. Those three also happen to be the team’s hottest hitters heading into state. Janesville West is batting .277 as a team, but hit well over .300 in the regional tournament.
Taran Kobs will handle the catching duties, with Aaron Polzin serving as a backup. Zach Harmel gives Martin a good utility player capable of playing anywhere on the field.
“We went 5-1 in four days at the regional tournament, so that shows you how well we’ve been playing lately,” Martin said.
“There’s a lot of pressure anytime you play at state, but this team seems to thrive on pressure games. I hope it continues at state.”