The second weekend in June means it's time for softball regionals, where the competition is a little harder, the stakes are a little higher and the margin for error is a little smaller.
But as four area softball teams take the field in regional action today, they have every reason to feel confident because of how far they've gotten in the season.
"We always thought it was possible, but we didn't know if it could be possible," Posen coach Glenn Budnick said of winning a district title. "Everybody from top to bottom has gotten better and that's why we're in the position we're at."
News File Photo
Posen’s Ashley Meyers winds up during a game against Rogers City.
The Vikings have a tough task ahead of them today as they face Rapid River in Sault Ste. Marie. Rogers City will face Rudyard on the other half of the bracket in a rematch that the Hurons have dominated this season.
The Rockets are no stranger to deep postseason runs and will be looking toward a return trip to the semifinals, where their season ended in 2011. Though Posen is a disciplined team at the plate, Rapid River senior pitcher Heather Sanderson is sure to present a challenge. The Rockets' offense is no slouch either as Rapid River handily defeated three opponents 46-1 to wrap up a district title.
Posen, which will make its first regional appearance since 2006, boasts a younger lineup but every player has improved and made the Vikings a formidable opponent. They were co-North Star League champions this season and knocked off Hillman 3-0 to win a district title.
Today's Softball Regionals
At SVSU (hosted by Saginaw
Lapeer West vs. Alpena, 10 a.m.
Swartz Creek vs. Bay City Central, 12 p.m.
Championship game, 2 p.m.
At Sault Ste. Marie
Posen vs. Rapid River, 10 a.m.
Rogers City vs. Rudyard, 12 p.m.
Championship game, 2 p.m.
At Bay City All Saints
Ubly vs. Mio, 10 a.m.
Kinde-North Huron vs. Bay City All Saints, 12 p.m.
Championship game, 2 p.m.
The Vikings' success will start with sophomore pitcher Ashley Meyers, who is a force in her own right on the mound and has a solid defense backing her. She threw a no-hitter in the district semifinal and has shown an outstanding ability to command hitters.
"If we play our best game, we'll come out on top," Budnick said. "The competition is fierce and we'll have to play our best two games of the season."
Rudyard is sure to prove a tough opponent for the Rogers City, but the matchups between the two squads this season have favored the Hurons, who outscored the Bulldogs 29-5 and won the Straits Area Conference title the last time the two teams played.
Rogers City is hoping to keep its momentum going after vanquishing Onaway for its first district title since 2004 on Tuesday, but the Hurons know that the district title win was only the beginning of what they're hoping is an extended postseason run.
"We're three steps up the ladder, but we need to take it one game at a time," Rogers City coach Karl Grambau said. "We're very confident and with good pitching, good defense and timely hitting, we should do well."
Good pitching for the Hurons starts with senior hurler Melissa Pomranke, who has been the sort of X-factor Rogers City needed this season, leading by example on and off the field. Since joining the Hurons after playing for Onaway last year, Pomranke has spent a lot of time working with Rogers City assistant coach Gary Bisson and the results have paid off. Against the Cardinals on Tuesday, Pomranke allowed just two hits in seven innings.
"She's a real leader," Grambau said of Pomranke. "It all starts with pitching in softball and she's improved so much and she's getting better every day."
While Pomranke has been solid on the mound, the Hurons' defense has been solid too, even after several players switched to new positions this season.
The tough schedule that Alpena is known for should prove beneficial for the Wildcats today as they play Lapeer West today in a regional semifinal at Saginaw Valley State University. Swartz Creek will play Bay City Central in the other semifinal.
The Wildcats may have played a tough schedule, but they showed their meddle, finishing with just one loss from the end of April to the end of the regular season, facing a number of tough teams along the way.
"Part of our scheduling early in the year, we want to mix with the other regional teams in our area. We went to the Flint Kearsley Tournament, we went to Grand Blanc's Tournament," Alpena coach Paul Marwede said. "We want to get down there and play the stronger teams from our region."
Alpena enters the regional having played one of the seemingly easier district title games after beating Marquette 6-3. Lapeer West edged Flint Kearsley 3-2 and Central topped Saginaw Heritage 2-1. No. 8 Swartz Creek defeated Clio 9-1.
Nonetheless, the Wildcats aren't taking anything for granted and spent a good deal of time working on bunting this week, since runs are at a premium the deeper a team gets in the postseason.
"This time of year you're going to see better and better pitching and generally the better the pitcher, the more the coach is going to try and get one run at a time and also to put pressure on the other team," Marwede said.
Even with the emphasis on bunting, Marwede won't hesitate to have his players look to hit for power. The Wildcats have a number of players who can hit for power and it could prove to be a valuable asset if Alpena can get to the opposition's pitching.
"The best part is our whole lineup just has so much depth. Everyone can hit," Alpena first baseman Brenna Bourdage said.
In Bay City, Mio will play Ubly in a regional semifinal with the winner advancing to play either Kinde-North Huron or Bay City All Saints in the championship game.