The baseball regular season has wrapped up and area teams are aiming for district championships as the postseason begins in earnest today.
This includes a solid Alpena team, who will have to make its way through Traverse City Central in a district semifinal, a team that has seen some success after a rocky season start.
"They lost something like their first six games. But they've been getting better all year and we expect them to put the ball in play. Their strong spot on the defensive is up the middle, so we're going to have to focus on spreading our hits," Alpena coach Phil Schultz said.
Alpena infielder/pitcher Tim Atkinson
Alpena (19-7) will rely on the experience garnered from their two seniors, pitcher Mitch Skiba and catcher and team captain Zach Nash.
Skiba is likely to be saved for the second game as junior Tim Atkinson is likely to pitch the first.
"I'll turn into a brick wall (as catcher), not let any balls past me and be a leader on and off the field," Nash said.
If they win, the Wildcats could face Traverse City West, the team to whom they lost the league championship last Friday, in the final.
"We're going to have to be very good and take the lead quickly, play solid defense and not make any mistakes. They got a great division one pitcher and we're going to have to play well, but we know what to expect from them this time," Schultz said.
The Hillman baseball team has had a solid year (20-4) with a young squad of players who have only gotten better. One of its losses came in a split with a tough Atlanta squad (21-2), who has had a stand out year and split the North Star League with Hillman this year, a first for the Huskies.
"What impressed me most with them was how well they fielded the ball. I'm expecting a really tight, low scoring game against them," Hillman coach Rick Firman said.
Both teams have solid players that could contribute to their team's success. Sophomore Ty Jones is a hard pitcher to hit while freshman catcher Dylan Steinke rarely lets a ball get by his glove.
"We're expecting probably the hardest game we've played all season. But I feel we have a team that is good enough to win," Atlanta coach Sean Barrett said.
Atlanta is led by pitcher Garrett Badgero, one of the best athletes to emerge from Atlanta in recent years.
"Garrett's a special kind of athlete and any team with him on it has a great chance of winning," Barrett said.
Atlanta does not depend entirely on Badgero, but also on a group of sophomores and juniors that have become one of the best teams in the North Star League.
"This game will center on our best pitchers with the winner being the team that can back up the pitcher with the best fielding and hitting. It'll have to be a total team effort," Firman said.
The winner of the first game will face the winner of the Johannesburg-Lewiston and Gaylord Saint Mary game.
The Rogers City baseball team may not have a winning record this season (12-18), but it's shown year after year that it has what it takes when it matters. In the last 23 years, Rogers City teams have won 21 district championships, including the last four in a row.
"We play in a very difficult conference with some tough teams like Marquette, Claire and Cheboygan. That helps us get prepared for the playoffs every year. We do a lot of Saturday tournaments for the same reason. By the time districts roll around, we're not thinking of it like a playoff game. It's just another Saturday," Rogers City coach Wayne Karsten said.
The Hurons will have to first get past a tough Onaway squad (17-6) that includes such skilled players as pitcher Andrew Prow and Cody Whitsitt.
Whoever wins will have to face either Burt Lake Northern Michigan Christian or Inland Lakes in the championship game.
Over in Lincoln, the Alcona baseball team (22-7) will face Mio (14-7-1), a team with whom it split earlier in the year and who may give Alcona a real challenge.
"Mio likes the small ball. They like to bunt and pick up blooper hits to move men on the base. They play a fast game and I anticipate a really tough, close game," Alcona coach Terry Franklin said.
Cody Franklin has been Alcona's ace all year, but supporting pitchers like Nathan Fettes and Trenton LaVergne have rarely let their team down.
Franklin and Fettes have the ability to get the big hits, while second baseman Jared Steiner combines accurate hitting with fast feet for an effective offensive attack.
Mio coach Ryan Rondo not only anticipates facing Franklin, but welcomes it.
"I think they're saving their best pitcher (Franklin) for us and he throws hard. but we do our best work against fast pitchers. We like to play the small ball, make them make plays and put pressure on the pitcher. We're hoping to get some runs early in the game and keep them pressured," Rondo said.
Mio is likely to rely on batters like Bryson Devers and Nick Mangutz who have both hit nearly .500 this year.
The winner of the Mio and Alcona game will face either Arenac-Eastern or Hale in the championship game.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.