Point will play five games in the four-day, six-team tournament, which will be held Thursday through Sunday, July 4-7.
The Sixers, who are in their 50th season as a program, are scheduled to open against Beaver Dam at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 4, as they look to win their third consecutive Firecracker Classic Title.
“It’s going to be a little more special than in years past, seeing that it’s the 50th anniversary year,” said Sixers manager Luke Suchon. “We’re doing a lot of reflecting on the 50 years, and the namesake of the tournament, Ed Kardach.
“And we’re very fortunate to always have it the same weekend as Riverfront Rendezvous, because we get a great turnout from the Stevens Point community,” said Suchon. “Hopefully we come away with our third trophy in the last three years.”
After going 5-0 to win the tournament in 2011, the Sixers finished 5-0 last year to win the Firecracker Classic in back-to-back years for the first time in program history.
Point comes into the tournament this weekend after it swept a doubleheader from the second-ranked Kenosha Merchants on Saturday, June 29, and then beat Wisconsin Rapids 13-0 in seven innings on Monday, July 1.
In the first game against Kenosha, first baseman Aaron Nickel hit three home runs and finished with seven RBI to power the Sixers to a 10-8 win, while pitcher Zach Bembenek tossed a three-hitter to lead Point to a 7-1 win in the second game.
“That first game we gave up a few runs on errors, but we battled back with our sticks and really relied on Aaron’s hot bat to get us going,” said Suchon. “And then the second game, we just jumped out to an early lead and then Zach, which actually was his first outing on the mound this year, went out there and really shut them down and gave us an ace’s effort on the mound.
“They’re a good ballclub and extremely well-coached, so we’re very fortunate to come out with two wins,” said Suchon. “Hopefully we’ll try to get a little momentum going into the Firecracker this weekend.”
The Sixers will open up against Beaver Dam, the top-ranked AA team in the state, at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday night, and then will host Wisconsin Valley Legion League foe Wausau at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Point will play a pair of games on Saturday, as it will take on 14th-ranked Oshkosh at 2:30 p.m., and then face Sun Prairie at 7:30 p.m. during the city’s fireworks show.
The Sixers will close out the round-robin tournament on Sunday when they face 10th-ranked Beloit at 3 p.m.
“We have a really good group of teams coming in,” said Suchon. “Wausau’s been hot as of late, Beloit’s a really tough team, we have Oshkosh, and then you’ve got the No. 1-ranked team in AA.
“The new team this year is Sun Prairie American Legion,” said Suchon. “We don’t know a lot about them, I know they have some of their kids from the spring season, but also some new kids as well from the area.”
During the tournament, the Sixers will also honor Kardach, a Stevens Point native who started the Sixers program in 1963 and was known as “Mr. Baseball of Portage County.”
After graduating from P.J. Jacobs High School in 1942, Kardach signed with the Chicago White Sox as a pitcher and an outfielder and played with their minor league team in Wisconsin Rapids that summer.
He entered the Navy in January 1943 and served in World War II, and then returned to play minor league baseball from 1946 through 1948, before his career was cut short due to shoulder problems.
He later worked as a scout with the Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets, and was approached to start the Sixers’ baseball team in 1963.
Over 23 seasons as the Sixers’ manager, he went 553-342 and led Point to 10 Conference Titles and eight State Tournaments before he resigned in 1987 due to health reasons.
Kardach, who died in 2006, and his coaches also started the Community Park Improvement Committee in order to raise funds to put up lights at Bukolt Park, and to this day the committee continues to raise money to help support area projects.
“We’re really fortunate, with everything that he has done for the Stevens Point American Legion program,” said Suchon. “Starting it up and getting it going in those early years and thriving with it in the 70s and 80s.
“We just are fortunate to look back on the history this weekend, and hopefully come away with another win,” said Suchon.