The month of May did wonders for the Alpena softball team.
After sitting just a few games over .500 at 11-8 at the end of April, the Wildcats parlayed a strong schedule into a 24-9 record to end the regular season, including an undefeated run through the Big North Conference.
The Wildcats are hoping the strong play continues as they begin district play today in Traverse City against Traverse City West. Host Traverse City Central will play Marquette on the other end of the bracket.
Alpena's Laura Lewis
"We're very pleased. We're playing really well," Alpena coach Paul Marwede said. "We'll use the confidence gained through the Big North season and we're in a position where I think we'll do well."
A big part of Alpena's success this season has been the steady mound presence of senior pitcher Laura Lewis, who has allowed just seven walks all season. With fellow senior Kelli Stevens working behind the plate, the chemistry between Lewis and Stevens over the past three seasons has helped Alpena develop a strong defensive game.
"It's really paying strong dividends for us," Marwede said.
What: Baseball and Softball Districts
Where: Local teams will play at Traverse City Central, Gaylord St. Mary, Mio and Rogers City
When: today and Saturday
While pitching has been a strong point, the Wildcats' offense brings a lot of pop and has a knack for coming through with clutch hits.
In other district action today, Mio will look to win a district title on its home field when it plays Fairview. On the other side of the bracket, Arenac Eastern will play Hale.
Onaway shoots for sixth straight title
Even with five straight district titles under her belt in the last five seasons, the thrill of competing for a district championship never gets old for Onaway softball coach Jodi Brewbaker.
"Every one is special. They don't come around very often," Brewbaker said. "I always wanted to be a district champ as a player and never was."
The Cardinals (25-4) will seek a sixth straight district title on Saturday in Rogers City and will begin their quest against Alanson. On the other side of the bracket, the host Hurons will face Harbor Light.
Rogers City will be looking to avenge several losses to the Cardinals should both teams reach the district final. Onaway beat Rogers City in a doubleheader just a few weeks ago and topped the Hurons in the district title game last season.
Both teams are ranked in the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association Division 4 poll- Onaway is No. 2 and Rogers City is No. 8.- and are a lot alike. Both squads have a dominating ace pitcher as well as number of veteran upperclassmen who can generate a lot of offense if they get to opposing pitchers.
Getting to the opposing pitcher could be a challenge for both teams however. Onaway's Emily Estep has thrown a pair of perfect games this season and helped the Cardinals to a perfect record in Ski Valley Conference play. On the flip side, Melissa Pomranke, Onaway's No. 2 pitcher last season, has been a mainstay on the mound for Rogers City this season helping the Hurons to a Straits Area Conference title as well as several regular season tournament wins.
Hillman looks to defend title
Hillman coach Curt Tebo knows the Tigers will have a target on their back as they head into district play on Saturday at Gaylord St. Mary.
The Tigers ended a six-year district title drought last year and with a senior-laden lineup, they're looking to make it two in a row as they try to make another appearance in regionals.
"They're pumped. They know they're just as good or better (than the other teams in the district)," Tebo said. "They know it's time to play some good ball and they're ready for it."
While it has every reason to feel confident, Hillman (29-7) likely won't be looking past the host Snowbirds. Posen plays Johannesburg-Lewiston on the other side of the bracket.
Hillman has several players who can hit with power and the Tigers will need to get the bats going if they expect to win. Tebo said that practice this week has focused a lot on hitting.
"You've got to score runs. Pitching can only keep you going so long," Tebo said.
Posen hit the ball well on Tuesday, easily defeating Atlanta, but coach Glenn Budnick knows the Vikings will have to keep up the hitting as the level of competition increases. Such is the case with the Cardinals who are 15-12 on the year, but have played some tough teams including a pair of close games with Hillman.
Should Posen (26-8) and Hillman meet in the championship game, it will be the rubber match between the two squads who shared the North Star League title this season. In a doubleheader in Posen earlier this year, both teams came away with a win.
"We both respect each other's program, but both of us have to play tough games," Budnick said.