UNIVERSITY CENTER- When the final out had been recorded in Saturday's Division 1 softball regional final game between Alpena and Swartz Creek, there wasn't much that separated the two teams from one another.
In the end, the Dragons were just a little better than the Wildcats.
Alpena (27-10) fell behind 2-0 early and rallied late before ultimately falling short as Swartz Creek beat the Wildcats 2-1 at Saginaw Valley State University to advance to Tuesday's quarterfinal at Central Michigan University.
News Photo by James Andersen
Alpena first baseman Brenna Bourdage makes contact with a pitch during a Division 1 softball regional championship game against Swartz Creek on Saturday. Bourdage had two hits for the Wildcats.
In a game that saw nearly identical pitching stats, nearly identical hit totals and a variety of impressive defense plays on both ends, Swartz Creek ended up a few steps ahead.
"It was a great ball game. 2-1. Both teams had three or four balls hit hard. Two of theirs found the gaps, three of ours found leather and that's what softball comes down to," Alpena coach Paul Marwede said. "If we play them 10 times, we're both going to win five.'
The Dragons got off to a fast start after two of their first three batters singled off of Alpena pitcher Laura Lewis in the first inning. Swartz Creek took a 1-0 lead after Lewis balked, allowing Hayley Cruthers to score from third.
Regional at SVSU
Lapeer West 2
Swartz Creek 5
Bay City Central 2
Swartz Creek 2
In the top of the third, the Dragons loaded the bases with one out, but only managed one run before the end of the inning after an RBI single from Carah Pletscher scored Cruthers. Lewis induced two fly ball outs to end the threat and leave the bases loaded.
Trailing in the bottom of fifth inning, Alpena recorded three hits in its turn at the plate and scored once before leaving the bases loaded.
With one out, Abby MacArthur and Desiree Robertson both singled. After Shannon Kapala flied out, Claire Coopes-Meske singled to right field to score MacArthur and cut the Dragons' lead in half.
Brenna Bourdage then walked to load the bases for Alpena but Pletscher got Rhianna Adams to ground out to escape the jam.
That would be the last real threat for the Wildcats after a double play ended the bottom of the sixth inning and they went 1-2-3 in the seventh. Alpena hit the ball hard, but Swartz Creek came up with all the routine plays it needed to make to stay ahead.
"I'm very proud of our kids. They battled and they played hard," Marwede said. "The ball went to the leather the fifth and sixth innings and that was unfortunate."
Bourdage led Alpena with two hits and Coopes-Meske, MacArthur, Robertson and Caten Teff had a hit each. Cruthers led the Dragons with three hits and Gabrielle Deering had two hits.
Pletscher earned the win for Swartz Creek, allowing one run on six hits with two strikeouts and two walks. Lewis allowed two runs on seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts.
While Alpena fell just short in the final, it came up with all the right plays at the right times in its semifinal game against Lapeer West, defeating the Panthers 3-2.
Swartz Creek beat Bay City Central 5-2 in the other semifinal.
Alpena took a 1-0 lead in the first inning after Adams singled in Coopes-Meske.
Coopes-Meske drove MacArthur in the next inning after MacArthur led off the inning with a triple to the fence.
Though the Panthers were held scoreless and hitless in the first two innings, they came up big in the third inning after three singles and a pair of errors helped them knot the game at two.
The Wildcats got their momentum back in the fourth inning when Alex Peters scored what would prove to be the winning run. After reaching base on an error, Peters advanced to second on a passed ball and took third on a wild pitch. After MacArthur walked, she got caught stealing second, but the play then allowed Peters to steal home to put the Wildcats ahead 3-2.
Lapeer got the tying run on third with two outs in the fifth inning, but Alpena made an impressive defense stand and got an inning-ending 5-3-2 double play.
After Ashley Knockert grounded to Robertson at third, Robertson threw to Bourdage at first for the second out and Bourdage then threw to catcher Kelli Stevens who tagged Lindsay Reynolds at home plate to end the inning.
Lapeer went 1-2-3 in the sixth inning, but got the tying run on third with two outs in the seventh inning. The threat was neutralized after Lewis got Reynolds, who had two hits in the game, to ground out on the first pitch, which etched the win for the Wildcats.
Adams led Alpena with two hits and MacArthur tripled. Lewis struck out three, walked none and allowed four hits to earn the win.