GRAND RAPIDS — A week after hosting the district American Legion baseball tournament, Bob Streetar Field in Grand Rapids will be the site for the District 8 Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Baseball Tournament.

Tournament action kicks off Saturday at 11 a.m. when Hibbing takes on Hermantown followed by a game at 1:30 p.m. pitting West Duluth against Cloquet.

At 4 p.m., the winner of the Hibbing/Hermantown game will play Duluth East and that will be followed at 6:30 p.m. with Grand Rapids facing the winner of the West Duluth/Cloquet game.

Loser’s bracket games on Sunday, Aug. 1, will be at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. The semifinals in the winner’s bracket will be at 4 p.m., followed by a loser’s bracket game at 6:30 p.m.

At 4 p.m. on Monday in the loser’s bracket, one team will advance to the finals having to win two games to earn a state berth. The championship game is set for Monday at 6:30 p.m. If necessary in the double-elimination tournament, the true championship game would be played Tuesday, Aug. 3, at 6:30 p.m.

Veteran Grand Rapids VFW coach Greg Tulla said Grand Rapids last won the district title in 2019, and it is the defending champion as the 2020 tournament was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Tulla said the philosophy in Grand Rapids in regards to VFW baseball – which is for players 15 and 16 years old – is to develop youngsters’ skills as they progress to the high school level.

“Some of these guys will be fighting for starting positions on the high school varsity next year,” Tulla said. “Being 15 and 16 years old, some of these kids are starting on the (American) Legion team as well. So we do have kids that play both Legion and VFW.

“That 15-16-year-old age is a very important developmental age just from the standpoint of they are starting to get stronger and they are starting to play on the big field. It is a big step from when they were 13 and 14 where they were probably not physically ready for the big field.

“But now they are getting stronger and it becomes of those ages where you are either a ball player or you’re not because most of these kids next year will be sophomores and juniors.”

The Grand Rapids team is 16-7 entering the tournament. Tulla said the conflict between the Legion and VFW schedules has resulted in the VFW team playing a younger lineup for most of the season. He added that the team’s 15-year-olds have performed very well.

“We have been very competitive with some of the top teams in the state, and once the playoffs start you add a few of the older kids and their leadership makes a huge difference,” Tulla explained. “You have to have those older kids, especially if we are fortunate enough to make the state tournament. When you go up against the metro schools and some of the St. Cloud area teams, you are going up against all 16-year-olds.”

Tulla was asked what the keys to success will be for Grand Rapids in the tournament, Tulla said it always comes down to receiving good pitching and playing good defense.

“If pitchers throw strikes and defensively you pick the ball up, you’re going to be very successful,” Tulla said. “Obviously everybody likes to hit but your hitting is not going to be there every game; it’s your pitching and defense that has to be there game in and game out.

“There is no secret recipe; it’s no different from any other level. If you get the pitching and defense, you are going to be a step ahead of the others. I have high expectations for this group when we have all our players there and I don’t think making a run at the state title is out of the question. It is just a matter of how we perform come showtime.”

 

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