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Alpena's Zach Nash
The Alpena baseball team has seen its share of growing pains this season as a number of younger players have gotten their first taste of varsity baseball.
But the Wildcats have also shown a lot of potential and have collected some big wins along the way too, most notably at a tournament in Escanaba a few weeks ago.
As such, the Wildcats (17-16) find themselves in a good position headed into district play today in Traverse City. Alpena will play Traverse City West in the second game, while Traverse City Central will play Marquette in the opening semifinal.
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
"The potential of beating any team is there," Alpena coach Phil Schultz said. "We could have the element of surprise if teams take us too lightly."
A big key for Alpena will be too swing the bat more consistently than it has been. Alpena's offense starts with speedy infielder Ryan Hendricks who has more than 30 stolen bases this season and has bettered his record-setting mark from last year for swipes.
"He's a big part of our offense. It's a different ball game when they keep him off the bases," Schultz said.
Schultz plans to send out Mitch Skiba to pitch the first game and then either Brady Marwede or Tim Atkinson should the Wildcats advance. With injuries sidelining left-hander Luke Cordes for portions of the year, Alpena's other pitchers have had to step up and each of them has had strong outings at times.
If Alpena is able to get things going at the plate, all bets could be off as the Wildcats have shown a knack for pulling out wins in tight contests.
"We won the tournament in Escanaba and we've played in a lot of close ball games and found ways to win," We've been in a lot of pressure situations and I think they can do it," Schultz said.
Playing mistake-free baseball will also be key for the Alcona baseball team which will play Hale today in a district in Mio. The host Thunderbolts will play Fairview on the other end of the bracket.
"We're playing our best baseball right now," Alcona coach Seth Coffing said. "We've played good competition and we've played tough."
Alcona (15-21) has had its share of struggles at the plate, but came away with a 5-0 predistrict win over Arenac Eastern on Tuesday. Coffing said the key for the Tigers will be to hit consistently, so that they won't have to play from behind.
Wayne Karsten has seen his share of success in districts, having been a part of winning district teams as a player and an assistant coach.
Saturday however, will be a different story as Karsten attempts to win his first district title as head coach of the Rogers City baseball team. Karsten replaced Howard Madsen as the Hurons' coach this season after Madsen retired with 25 district titles in 30 seasons.
The goals haven't changed though as Rogers City has been playing solid baseball for the last few weeks and already picked up a predistrict win in a 12-3 win over Inland Lakes on Tuesday.
"I'm feeling a lot better since we won the predistrict game," Karsten said. "It got a lot of nerves out of me and the players."
As the weather has warmed up Rogers City (14-18) has improved its play and is counting on its pitching as it faces Harbor Light today on its home field. The Hurons have been to the quarterfinals in each of the last two seasons and to get there again, pitching will be a key. Chris Peacock, Chad Karsten and Paul Wilbert have all seen time on the mound for the Hurons this season and it will be important for whoever takes the mound to find the strike zone.
"Our pitchers have to continue to throw strikes," Karsten said. "It's like I told the guys, March, April and May are for practice to get everything lined up for June."
Onaway will play Alanson in the other district semifinal.
At Gaylord St. Mary on Saturday, Hillman will play the host Snowbirds and Atlanta will face Johannesburg-Lewiston in the district semifinal games.