ROGERS CITY-The Rogers City softball team is likely highly confident about its chances in the regionals, which start today at 10 a.m.
The Hurons not only won the district championship by a combined score of 20-2, but could win its second regional championship in a row in front of a home crowd.
Rogers City (29-6) may have a home field advantage, but it's going to have its work set out for it when it faces Rapid River, a team it overwhelmed 6-3 in last year's regional championship game.
News File Photo
Rogers City’s Sarah Meredith slides into third base during a district game against Hillman. Meredith leads the Hurons with 14 home runs this season and she and the Hurons will play Rapid River today in a regional semifinal matchup at home.
"We have to defend our home turf, so there's a little bit of extra pressure. They've beat us two years ago in the regionals and we beat them last year," Rogers City coach Karl Grambau said." We're looking forward to a good game against a very fundamentally strong team."
The Hurons and Rockets face off in today's opening game. The winner will then move on to face either Indian River Inland Lakes or Norway.
Although the Rockets (18-12) may have not seem as imposing offensively or defensively when compared to Rogers City's record, but it has cut its teeth in tournaments against teams like Marquette and Escanaba.
Division 4 regional at Rogers City
Rapid River vs. Rogers City, 10 a.m.
Inland Lakes vs. Norway, noon
Championship, 2 p.m.
The Hurons' biggest hurdle against the Rockets will undoubtedly be pitcher Savannah Stenlund, who fanned 15 batters in the district final in Pickford against Superior Central. Furthermore, she picked up three consecutive no-hitters during the season as well as two perfect games.
Stenlund's indisputable strengths as a pitcher aren't lost on the Hurons' coaching staff, but thankfully Rogers City is one of the hardest hitting squads in the area.
"We just have to hit the good pitch, it doesn't really matter who's pitching. We have to be patient up there and hit what we can hit," Grambau said. "We heard she's a good pitcher and we're looking forward to the challenge."
The Hurons hitting statistics showcase a team with a tantamount ability to hit. It has 417 hits as a team, including 81 doubles, 17 triples and 44 home runs. The Hurons also have a batting average of .458 and a run average of 11.5 per game.
Among its strongest hitters is Sarah Meredith, a player who has hit 14 homers, although nine other hitters have homered for the Hurons.
The Hurons offensive abilities are the result of the natural talents of its hitters as well the talents of its coaching staff.
"We do a lot of hitting drills in practice. Gary Bisson, my assistant coach, takes care of all the hitting. He has the amazing ability to hear how a ball comes off a bat, without even looking, and noticing a problem," Grambau said. "He won't make a big deal out of it, just say something like 'Hey, hands up on the bat' and it corrects the problem almost every time."
While the Hurons main strength is offense, it also has two dominant pitchers in Nikki Radke and Alexa Quaine.
"I'm sure we'll go with Nikki to start, like we have all season. But, Alexa is always ready to go and they can switch at any point. Both our pitchers are very capable pitchers and they've both done fabulous jobs," Grambau said. "In some ways, I think they're two of the most underrated pitchers in the area."
In spite of the fact that Rogers City and Rapid River are likely focusing almost entirely on preparing for each other, neither team should ignore the threat from Inland Lakes or Norway.
Inland Lakes (22-5) won its district championship by routing St. Ignace 14-3 and staving off Pellston team 2-1 in the final. Any coach can tell you that a team with 20-plus wins is almost always a season-ending threat.
This is especially true when that team is backed by a pitcher like Cloe Mallory, who threw a no-hitter against the Hornets in the district championship game while striking out 15 batters.
Last, but not least, is Norway (19-6), a team that beat Ironwood 9-5 to take its first district title in school history, a championship that is all the more impressive considering Norway's softball program is only four years old.
"I've heard Norway hits the ball very well. We beat Inland Lakes in the district finals last year and now we're on the other side of the regional," Grambau said. "Both teams are obviously very good, so you don't want to discard them. After all, its one and done, so anything can happen."
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.