It's just another game.
That's the approach the No. 3 Rogers City softball team is taking as it heads into today's Division 4 semifinal matchup with top-ranked Kalamazoo Christian at 1 p.m. at Bailey Park in Battle Creek.
The Hurons' motto this season has been 'What's Important Now' or WIN and it means Rogers City plays for the moment, not placing one game's importance above another.
News File Photo
Rogers City's Courtney Streich, left, races toward first base as Frankfort's Sophie Nye waits to field a throw during the first inning of a Division 4 quarterfinal game on Tuesday in Traverse City. Streich was safe on the play.
Rogers City (33-6) isn't taking the Comets (31-7) lightly or looking past them; the Hurons are simply just trying to approach today's contest with a sense of calm to be able to come out and play their best game.
"It's just another game. We're not trying to put a lot of pressure on ourselves," senior Rebecca Meredith said. "We all play our best when we're having fun."
The Hurons are making their first semifinal appearance since 2004. Rogers City topped Jackson Vandercook Lake 3-2 on a three-run home run from Ashley Fleming in the semifinals, but lost to Waterford Our Lady 15-0 in the finals.
Road to Battle Creek
Rogers City (33-6)
def. Alanson 32-0 in predistrict game
def. Onaway 6-5 in district semifinals
def. Inland Lakes 10-0 in district final
def. Posen 9-8 in regional semifinals
def. Rapid River 6-3 in regional final
def. Frankfort 14-2 in quarterfinal
Kalamazoo Christian (31-7)
def. Bellevue 18-0 in district semifinals
def. Climax-Scotts 8-1 in district final
def. Decatur 5-1 in regional semifinals
def. St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran 7-1 in regional final
def. Gobles 15-5 in quarterfinal
"The first time (in 2004) we felt rushed, so we just want to stay calm," Rogers City coach Karl Grambau said. "We've tried to keep everything the same. We had practice inside (on Wednesday) and just stayed with our same routine."
Christian is making its first appearance in Battle Creek since 2002 when it won a Division 3 state championship.
Rogers City has traveled a tough road to get to Battle Creek, collecting wins over No. 6 Onaway, No. 8 Posen and No. 10 Rapid River this postseason. The Comets however, have lived up to their ranking all season, earning wins over several Division 1 schools and beating No. 5 Gobles and No. 7 Decatur in the playoffs.
Both teams advanced to the semifinals after quarterfinal romps on Tuesday. Rogers City topped Frankfort 14-2 in five innings and Christian defeated Gobles 15-5 in five innings. Both victories were keyed by first-inning offense as both teams built big leads their opponents couldn't come back from. The depth on both sides was evident as 10 different Rogers City batters had a hit and six different Comets drove in runs.
At this point in the postseason, a win often comes down to a few well-timed hits or a few mistakes, which makes pitching more important than ever. Rogers City has used a pitcher-by-committee approach all season and will do so again today, likely giving Nikki Radke (12-4, 2.88 ERA) the start on the mound. Radke allowed two runs on six hits against Frankfort and will face an experienced Comets' lineup that includes juniors Tori Sides and Rebekah Van Dam and senior Stephanie VanderLugt- all of whom are battling well over .300 for the season.
The Comets will likely send VanderLugt (16-4, 1.57 ERA, 136 strikeouts) to the hill. Rogers City has a team batting average of .397 and is sure to face a tough test from VanderLugt, but it's a challenge the Hurons are ready for.
"One through nine we have really good hitters who are up for the challenge, no matter who the pitcher is," Grambau said.
Regardless of whether it wins or loses, Rogers City is just going to enjoy the moment come this afternoon and that means feeling comfortable.
As they've done with every game since regionals, Rogers City's players have taken bags of dirt, grass and sand from Gilpin Field and sprinkled them on the fields they're playing on. It worked in Sault Ste. Marie for regionals and at Traverse City for the quarterfinal and each player is taking two bags down to Battle Creek-one for today and one for Saturday.
"It's a comfort we can take from home and it puts us at ease," sophomore Logan Fleming said. "We have to play our game because when we do, we're a hard to beat team. We need to keep working hard like we have been."
Today's winner will play either Ubly or Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in the championship game at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.