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News Photo by Chris Dobrowolski
Alpena shortstop Rachael Brown, middle, tries to turn a double play during the first game of Tuesday’s softball doubleheader against Cadillac at Alpena High School. Also pictured are Alpena second baseman Emily Homant, left, and Cadillac baserunner Maddie Masten.
There were some positives.
There were some areas where improvement is needed, too.
But the most important thing for a young Alpena softball team trying to break in eight newcomers was simply getting out onto the field and playing games.
The Wildcats did just that Tuesday, taking on Big North Conference rival Cadillac at Alpena High School.
The Vikings played spoiler in Alpena's season-opening doubleheader however, by winning both games, 4-2 and 5-4.
Cadillac scored the two deciding runs in the top of the seventh inning to take the first game, then held off an Alpena rally in the last inning of the second game to complete the sweep.
"We took some good steps in the right direction," said Alpena coach Paul Marwede, who has a team returning only four players from last year's state runners-up. "But we have room to grow."
Mainly, the Wildcats (0-2) can get better at the plate. Even though they banged out 15 hits over the two games, Alpena had trouble stringing enough hits together to produce more runs. It took the Wildcats four innings before they had a runner reach base in the opener. Then, in the second game, they left seven runners stranded on base.
In general, Marwede would like to see more Wildcats get on the basepaths.
"We didn't have very many runners," he said. "But that was to Cadillac's credit. The young ladies that we're leaning on to bat over .300, we need them to stay aggressive. We're asking them to drive in runs. The younger girls can't get behind in the count. The whole team needs to swing earlier."
Three of Alpena's four returners - Nikki Preuss, Brandy Lancewicz and Rachael Brown - are slotted at the top of Alpena's lineup and contributed heavily to Alpena's offense. Those three had four of Alpena's six hits off Cadillac's Cassie Moore, while scoring and driving in the Wildcats two runs. In the second game they added four more hits.
"It felt good to be on the field," said Preuss, coming off an all-state season last year. "Even though I've been on the varsity (three years) I still get butterflies."
Butterflies also were omnipresent in Alpena's two freshman pitchers, Laura Lewis and Kelli Stevens, who performed well in spite of the jitters in their first varsity starts.
Lewis scattered seven hits, walked six and struck out four in the first game. In the nightcap, Stevens walked six, allowed five hits and struck out four. Both displayed poise under pressure at various times, working their way out of some tough jams.
"They were trying as hard as they could," said Preuss. "That's all we want them to do. I had to take a couple of timeouts to calm them down and get back their focus."
Alpena battled back from a 2-0 deficit in the first game. It cut the Cadillac lead to one run in the bottom of the fourth on a double by Preuss and an RBI single from Lancewicz. Then, in the sixth inning the Wildcats tied the game on a single by Preuss and an RBI double from Brown. But Cadillac stole the win in the top of the seventh when it used a walk and two hits to manufacture two runs.
The Vikings opened up a 5-0 lead through four innings of the second game. But Alpena got two of those back in the top of the fifth on a two-run single by freshman Rhiannon Adams, who had two hits in the game and three in the doubleheader. The Wildcats added two more runs in the top of the seventh, but had two more potential runs wiped out on plays at third base by a solid Cadillac defense.
All things considered, Marwede wasn't too disappointed with the losses.
"To lose 4-2 and 5-4, I'm O.K. with that because we're going to get better," he said.
The Wildcats host Cheboygan on Thursday.
Chris Dobrowolski can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694.