Today's Alpena baseball and softball games against Traverse City West are some of the most important games either team will play all year.
A sweep for the baseball team would take the Big North Championship away from West, while a sweep for the softball team would improve their chances of beating out Cadillac for the championship.
The West baseball team is 10-0 in the Big North while Alpena is 9-1. Winning both games would give Alpena an 11-1 record over West's 10-2 record to give the baseball team their first league championship since 2011.
"When we won then, we kind of inherited a title when TC West and Central split in a game. This year we have the chance to prove we're the best by taking the title actively," Alpena coach Phil Schultz said.
Winning against West won't be a cake walk for Alpena. They will face Walter Borkovich, a top Division 1 pitcher and a West squad that has few squeaky gears.
"They have a few great kids on the team, their short stop is great. He runs really well and plays great defense. I expect really consistent, aggressive defense from the entire team," Schultz said.
Winning against a tough team will require consistent and fundamentally sound play from the entire Alpena squad.
"We gotta stay away from trying to do too much. We have focus on solid, confident hitting and swinging at good pitchers. Sometimes we have a tendency to chase the ball trying to hit the long ball and we're going to have to cut that out against West," Schultz said.
Alpena has a few offensive and defensive tricks up their sleeves. Senior pitcher Mitch Skiba has been consistent all year while senior catcher and team captain Zach Nash rarely lets a ball get by his glove.
"Nash is a vocal leader who keeps the guys going and keeps them excited and focused during games," Schultz said.
While a sweep of West won't guarantee an immediate league championship for the softball team, it will give the Wildcats a vital edge over main championship rival Cadillac. Alpena is 8-1 in the Big North while Cadillac is 7-1 and two wins would help stretch Alpena's lead.
"TC West is very well coached and the team has a lot of discipline. Coach (Kathy) Breece has 25 years of experience with various high schools and colleges and she'll have a team that is prepared and ready to go," Alpena coach Paul Marwede said.
The Alpena softball team has focused on tight team oriented play, with tight defensive play from senior first baseman Brenna Bourdage, excellent shortstop work from Logan Myers and the skillful pitching of Corinn Gehrke and Alex Peters being some of the important components in a finely woven quilt of teamwork.
"Our way is to not get too up for any one game. The idea of one team being your rival that you get worked up for just doesn't apply with us. We always expect to come out playing our best and playing hard against every single opponent," Marwede said.
The Alpena softball team has been on top of the Big North consistently since its formation, a fact that isn't lost on the team.
"We are proud to be playing for first place during the last week of the season. The girls work hard throughout the year and they expect to be playing for the conference championship this time of the year," Marwede said.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.