ROGERS CITY-The Rogers City softball team started its Monday practice by filling up small bags with dirt from its field.
Each player will take their bag to the Traverse City West high school field and dump it out at their respective positions, just before it faces Central Lake (26-6) in a Division 4 quarterfinal game today at 3 p.m.
"That's our little superstition. We always do that to get a homefield advantage. I think it helps us, just thinking that we're bringing some of our home field with us," Hurons infielder Courtney Streich said.
News File Photo
Members of the Rogers City softball team hoist the regional title after defeating Norway 16-4 in the regional final on Saturday in Rogers City. The Hurons will face Central Lake today in a quarterfinal at Traverse City West with the winner advancing to the semifinals on Friday.
The Hurons may not even need their bags of dirt to do well, as they had few problems in last year's quarterfinal game when they beat Frankfort 14-2 in five innings to set up their first trip to the semifinals since 2004.
"This is one of the best teams we've ever had, probably the best team in school history. These girls get it done offensively and defensively and are definitely peaking at the right time," Rogers City coach Karl Grambau said.
Rogers City's path to the quarterfinals has been fairly fraught with little danger: in districts and regionals, the Hurons outscored their opponents by a combined score of 39-9.
In fact, its 3-2 win over Rapid River in the regional semifinals posed its only true threat of elimination. The Hurons were behind 2-1 for much of the game, but won on a seventh inning walk-off single by Streich.
"It was crazy. I had been praying the whole game, 'Please let me help this team out in some way,'" Streich said. "The second it came off my bat I was ecstatic. I was already jumping up and down and was so excited and proud."
If winning regional titles has become almost second nature to the Hurons, its a bit of a new experience for Central Lake.
The Trojans' 4-0 victory over Frankfort in its regional championship sealed the deal on its first regional title since 1993 and much of its success can be attributed to senior pitcher Alexis Carpenter, who threw a three-hitter against Frankfort.
"Obviously, as we get down to fewer and fewer teams, the competition is going to go up. I heard that the (Central Lake) pitcher is kind of the same as us," Quaine said. "We do pretty good against Nikki (Radke) when we hit off her, so I think that if we focus and focus we'll do good."
Rogers City has its own dual pitching threat in Quaine and Radke.
Radke pitched six innings against Rapid River, giving up only a handful of hits, after which Quaine calmly closed out the last inning with bases loaded and nearly pitched a no-hitter in the championship game.
"(Central Lake) has played a few teams that we know and just by the points that they've won against them, I don't think that they're too tough of a team," Quaine said. "I don't want to jinx myself, but I think it'll be an evenly matched game."
This confidence is not unfounded and Carpenter is going to have her hands full pitching against a team that has hit 47 home runs this season.
Two of these homers came off the bat of Logan Fleming in regionals as she hit a solo shot against Rapid River and a three-run blast against Norway.
"I don't think the hitters will be anything we haven't seen. I believe in our defense and I think we can handle anything that comes towards us," Fleming said.
Although those bags of dirt may make the Hurons feel more at home in the more competitive rounds of the playoffs, their offensive and defensive strengths put them in a position where they won't likely need luck or superstition to make it to the semifinals for the second year in a row.
"We know that everybody left is a really good team and its going to be a good battle. I think with our defense, our pitching and our hitting we'll do just fine," Grambau said.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.