After a great run in the state tournament in which it battled through the losers’ bracket, the Mission Valley Mariners (51-7) are gearing up for the Northwest Regional A American Legion baseball tournament starting on Friday.
After narrowly dropping its first game at state to the Glasgow Reds, the Mariners stormed through the loser’s bracket and took revenge on Glasgow in the championship round, trouncing the Reds in both games to win the title.
At regionals, however, Mission Valley will be competing against teams that it has not faced at all this season, save Glasgow which also received a berth for taking second at state.
Regional action kicks off at 9:30 a.m. Friday in Burley, Idaho.
Mariners skipper Jami Hanson said he sees the challenge of facing unfamiliar squads as a good thing.
“It’s going to be a fun tournament,” Hanson said. “The further you get in the year you’re going to see more and more teams that you have never faced before and it makes for a fun challenge.”
The Mariners feature a tough lineup through the order, teamed with solid pitching and defense, but Hanson said he thinks his squad’s greatest strength goes beyond the X’s and O’s.
“I think what we’ve done best throughout the year is staying mentally focused and prepared,” Hanson said. “And that is especially important during the postseason.”
Mission Valley also has the luxury of having Justin Evertz, the Mariners’ ace and shortstop who was named to the Class A all-state team.
“What makes Justin so good is that he starts low and stays low. He lives around the knees and he’s also not afraid to change his pitches up,” Hanson said.
Evertz was also named state tournament MVP for the second year in a row in which he struck out 25 batters and held his opponents to a .054 batting average en route to two tournament victories.
The Mariners have also been solid in the batter’s box this postseason providing run support, and Hanson said he’s looking to first baseman Chris Clary to keep up his approach.
“Chris had a great district tourney and he didn’t slow down at state. He’s at his best when he’s aggressive, such as attacking early in the count,” Hanson said. “If it’s a pitch he can hit, he’s going to go after it.”
Hanson also said he has been very impressed with his team’s all-around effort, especially defensively.
“Our defense has been great all year long making the routine plays and helping out our pitching. Guys like Jack Humphreys and Cole McArthur have really stepped it up and played well for us,” he said.
Hanson said while he’s happy with how his team is playing at this point, there are always things it can improve upon.
“I’d like to see us walk a few less guys and pitch to contact more to get playable balls for our defense. If we can clean that up and keep up everything else, we have a good chance of being successful,” he said.