A season that began with some uncertainty turned into one of great success for the Alpena ThunderCats 12U softball team.
The ThunderCats were just hoping to compete as tournament play began this summer, but they did a lot more than just compete.
They won all five tournaments they played in while compiling a 25-1 record along the way.
Members of the Alpena ThunderCats 12U softball team hold up five fingers after winning the Alpena Thunderstruck Tournament last month. Beginning in mid-June, the ThunderCats won all five tournaments they played in while putting together a 25-1 record. The team will move up to the 14U division next summer and has a nice core of players returning.
Alpena completed its perfect summer tournament run with a championship win on its own turf in the Alpena Thunderstruck Tournament late last month.
"It was really unexpected," ThunderCats coach Ian Lundquist said of the summer. "It was a lot of fun, especially having such a great group of girls. They worked hard in every practice and in every tournament they came ready to play."
Much like it had done all summer, Alpena powered its way through its first four games in the Thunderstruck Tournament, but found a formidable opponent in the Moran Iron Works Vulcans in the championship game.
Buchanan Memorial Fastpitch
def. Queen of Diamonds 4-2
def. Traverse City Thunder 5-3
def. Queen of Diamonds 5-4
def. Mount Pleasant Drillers 4-3
def. Mount Pleasant Drillers 5-4*
lost to West Michigan Bandits 12-0
def. Traverse City Thunder (maroon) 7-3
def. Ogemaw Outlaws 14-5
def. Traverse City Thunder (blue) 14-2
def. Traverse City Waves 13-4
def. Lake Shore Storm 8-5*
Mount Pleasant Fastpitch Tournament
def. Mount Pleasant Drillers 5-4
def. Midland Lady Explorers 16-4
def. Mount Pleasant Fastpitch
def. Pinconning Thunder 6-5
def. Line Drive Express 10-6*
Soo Legacies Tournament
def. Petoskey Blaze 23-8
def. Traverse City Waves 6-4
def. Negaunee Diggers 18-1
def. Soo Legacies 21-5
def. Mid-Michigan Heat 8-2*
Alpena Thunderstruck Tournament
def. Tawas Waves 10-2
def. Traverse City Thunder 8-0
def. Soo Legacies 20-9
def. Tawas Waves 10-1
def. Moran Iron Works Vulcans 2-1*
Final Record: 25-1
*Indicates championship win
After a strong pitching performance from Morgan Dove, who allowed just four hits, the ThunderCats won 2-1 on a game-ending tag at home plate. Lizzie Kendziorski made a line-drive throw from center field to Emily Vivian who was waiting at the plate to make the tag. Jessica Marwede had two hits in the game and Taylor Kunath laid down a sacrifice bunt to drive in Marwede for the winning run.
"That was a really competitive game. Each team only had three or four hits and Morgan pitched unbelievable," Lundquist said.
Alpena's string of tournament championships began in mid-June with a win in the Buchanan Memorial Invitational in Charlevoix. In the semifinals, the ThunderCats rallied for three runs late in the game to defeat the Mount Pleasant Drillers before defeating them again in the finals 15-5.
That initial tournament win gave the ThunderCats a lot to be excited about and gave them the boost they needed for their remaining four tournaments.
"They were especially (excited) when we won in Charlevoix," Lundquist said. "It really got them motivated for the rest of the summer."
While there was uncertainty at the outset of the season about how competitive the ThunderCats would be, Alpena proved its ability to play with the state's best teams. Shortly after winning the Buchanan Invitational, the ThunderCats won the Northern Classic in Traverse City, topping the Lake Shore Storm 8-5 in the title game. It was during this tournament that Alpena suffered its only loss of the summer, dropping a game in pool play.
Two weeks later, the ThunderCats added a third tournament title to their resume, winning the Fastpitch Tournament in Mount Pleasant, a feat that was the most impressive of the tournament wins to Lundquist because of the high level of competition. In the semifinals, Alpena topped the Pinnconning Thunder 6-5 in extra innings and then bested Line Drive Express 10-6 in the title game.
As Alpena kept winning, the ThunderCats found their reputation spreading.
"That was the surprising thing. They would see what we were doing and say 'Wow, that team's really knocking the ball around' or 'Hey, you need to watch out for Alpena,'" Lundquist said. "It was really cool for the girls to hear."
The reputation the ThunderCats gained came not only because of their wins, but also by the way every member of the team contributed to Alpena's success. The strong pitching trio of Dove, Emma Fraser and Kady Gehrke kept opponents at bay while a number of players including Marwede, Kendziorski, Kunath, Vivian, Jasmyn Schultz, Kennedy Lundquist and Hunter Lundquist all came through in big moments during the tournaments, especially in games when Alpena found itself behind.
"It was a total team effort. From one game to the next, we had someone else who stepped up (each time)," Lundquist said. "We didn't know who was going to be the big bat or who was going to pitch well. We called ourselves the Comeback Kids because we had a lot of games where we were tied or down by a run and the girls never panicked."
Alpena picked up its fourth tournament win in mid-July, winning the Soo Legacies Tournament with another 5-0 run on the way to the title.
With a core group of players coming back next season, the ThunderCats will try to keep its string of tournament wins going, but they'll have to do it on a higher level as Lundquist said his team will move up to the 14U division.
"We're going to have a core group coming back, but it will be a learning process," Lundquist said.