The Alpena softball team has a lot to play for this weekend.
As the Wildcats open district play against Traverse City Central at noon today, they'll be vying not only to keep their season alive, but for the Big North Conference title as well. A win over the Trojans gives Alpena sole possession of the league title and puts them in position to contend for a second straight district title.
To top it all off, the Wildcats will have the chance to accomplish both of those goals on their home field as they are host of the Division 1 district.
Alpena infielder Logan Myers
"I think we're feeling pretty good. We had a couple solid wins this last week and we really started coming together as a team and we made the plays that needed to be made," senior pitcher Corinn Gehrke said.
Traverse City West will play Marquette in the other semifinal.
Most of Alpena's roster is familiar with the pressures of playoff softball, having won a district title last year in Traverse City and falling in the district final the year before. The experience and knowledge the veteran players have passed on has been a big help to newcomers like freshman Jenna VanDusen who will get her first taste of playoff action today.
It's been interesting I've learned a lot and based on how far we've come, I'm realized the team is very important. They keep you up and keep you going," VanDusen said. "They told me not to nervous because they're just games. I know we have to try our best, but we're always there for each other and they said just do your best and you should be good."
Alpena is currently 10-1 in conference play and a loss to the Trojans would limit them to a share of the title along with Cadillac who is also 10-2.
It might sound like a lot of pressure, but the Wildcats (19-10) have reason to feel confident. On the mound, Gehrke and Alex Peters have been a solid 1-2 punch for the Wildcats and the duo has been backed up all year by a stellar defense that includes veterans Logan Myers and Brenna Bourdage in the infield and Abby MacArthur and Shannon Kapala patrolling the outfield.
In Hillman, the Posen softball team is hoping to defend its district title today in a Division 4 district.
Posen will play Atlanta at noon while Gaylord St. Mary will play Johannesburg-Lewiston in the other semifinal at 10 a.m.
The No. 8 Vikings (22-5) won a district title last season with a young squad and the team has gotten exponentially better this season, winning the North Star League title with solid pitching and hitting that has made a lot of long days for opposing defenses. Posen ace Ashley Meyers has been one of the premier pitchers in the area this season and her command of four different pitches has led to several no-hitters as well as a few perfect games this season.
A target may be on Posen's back today, but the Vikings plan on going out and just playing their game. They hurdled a major obstacle on Wednesday when they topped conference rival Hillman 8-2 in a predistrict game.
"You can look at it two ways: you can look at it as a target or look at it and say hey, everyone's got to reach up to your level and that's what we look at it as," Posen coach Glenn Budnick said. "We believe we're a very quality team when we're playing well and hopefully we'll play that way on Saturday."
In Alcona, the host Tigers will play Mio in one semifinal at 10 a.m. and Hale will face Arenac Eastern in the other semifinal at 12:30 p.m.
Alcona has had its share of struggles during the season, but may be gaining momentum at the right time. The Tigers hit the ball well on Wednesday against Au Gres in a 16-6 predistrict win. They'll get a tough test from the Thunderbolts, who outscored them 29-0 in a doubleheader last month and earned a no-hitter in the first game.
Perhaps the area's most intriguing district semifinal match is in Rogers City where the No. 3 Hurons will host Presque Isle County rival No. 6 Onaway at noon. Inland Lakes will face Harbor Light Christian at 10 a.m. in the other semifinal.
The Hurons finally got the better of Onaway in last year's district final, ending the Cardinals' streak of five straight titles. Rogers City has already beaten Onaway twice this season as well, rallying for 5-4 and 8-5 wins early last month.
Rogers City (28-6) has been ranked in the top-5 in Division 4 all season and has been in top form all season despite losing pitcher Melissa Pomranke to graduation. Nikki Radke and Brooklyn Idalski have helped to fill that void and the Hurons' offense has consistently shown the ability to tee off on its opponents. Rogers City did just that in a 32-0 win over Alanson on Tuesday in a predistrict game.
Onaway (17-6) certainly has the talent to win back the district title, starting with four-year starting pitcher Emily Estep, who led Onaway to the Division 4 state title game as a freshman.
Backing her up is a hard-hitting offense that includes seniors Temara Lupu, Megan Estep and Sam Brasseur as well as some talented younger players.
Onaway recently wrapped up its eighth straight Ski Valley Conference title, giving the Cardinals' senior class a 62-2 conference record in their careers. The Cardinals have had some talented teams the last few seasons, but haven't gotten beyond the regional finals.
With a talented group of seniors on the way out, Onaway is hoping to change that.
"It's like Emily Estep said last year, 'Coach, we know what it's like to lose in the state finals, regional finals and districts,'" Onaway coach Jodi Brewbaker said. "I'd like for them to get back there to finish their softball careers."
James Andersen can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.