EAST LANSING-On May 1, the Rogers City softball team hosted Posen for a doubleheader that carried lots of weight.
The matchup pitted the No. 1 Hurons against the No. 5 Vikings and the two games were important to both teams' North Star League title aspirations.
Ultimately, the two games would also serve as a wake-up call for Rogers City.
Posen took both games by scores of 2-1 and 3-2, leaving the Hurons with a 10-3 record and somewhat unsatisfied with the way they were playing.
"I think it kind of woke us up and made realize that we need to work harder and just keeping pushing ourselves if we wanted to achieve our goals," senior center fielder Cassie Brege said.
Fast forward 44 days later and the Hurons are Division 4 champions for the first time in school history; the last team left standing after finishing the season on a 24-3 run and beating three ranked teams in the postseason.
News Photo by James Andersen
Members of the Rogers City softball team wave to fans during a victory parade in Rogers City on Sunday to celebrate the Hurons Division 4 softball state title. The Hurons rolled into town around 2 p.m. on Sunday and made their way through downtown surrounded by croweds of supports. The Rogers City players walked behind a police escort and school bus and made their way to Gilpin Field at the end of the parade.
After coming up short in 2001 and 2004 and losing in the semifinals last season, this year's Rogers City team overcame it all and made history, cementing its season in the school record books forever. Kalmazoo Christian tried mightily in the bottom of the seventh inning of the title game, scoring a run with two outs, but there was no way the Hurons were letting this one slip away.
Rogers City has been building momentum for the past few years, in a way that made the players think it was only a matter of time before the Hurons won a title.
Two years ago, Rogers City broke a string of five straight district titles by Onaway, winning a district on its home field. That team went 35-6 and had a dynamite pitcher in Melissa Pomranke, but lost in the regional final.
Last year, the Hurons had another solid team and made it back to the semifinals for the first time since 2004 and fell short with a semifinal loss.
This season, in spite of losing some talented players, including their entire outfield from last season, the Hurons had more than enough pieces left to give it another shot. From the beginning the Hurons had high hopes and they weren't shy about letting them be known. Early in the year during an out of town tournament, they ripped the covers off of old softballs and wrote down their goals for the year. Chief among them was getting to East Lansing and back to the semifinals.
They did just that and more on the way to the title and they did it their way.
They did it by taking bags of their home field with them to playoff games and having each player spread them out at their respective positions.
They did it with shots of Mountain Dew before big games.
They did with inspirational quotes and messages that they spread out around their dugout; messages that told them to play hard, play for each other and play to inspire young girls who might have dreams of donning the Rogers City uniform one day.
They did it by believing with each other every step of the way, chanting as each player came up to bat and offering words of encouragement and support. That also included a motivational speech from Hurons' wrestling coach Pat Lamb before every playoff game.
They did it with a coaching staff that's one of the nicest and hardest working in the area. Hurons' coach Karl Grambau and Bisson, his assistant, do a fantastic job of preparing their team to execute well in all facets of the game and have fun doing it. The title is a long time coming for Grambau, who just finished his 12th season as coach and has waited 10 years to get back to the finals.
They did it for northern Michigan and for Northeast Michigan, showing the state that teams from the Sunrise Side can play with anyone and are a force to be reckoned with.
They did it with incredible fan support and for their city. A big chunk of the stands at Secchia Stadium on Friday and Saturday was filled with fans decked out in orange and black and during the final, chants of Go Orange! Go Black! rained down from the stands. On Sunday, fans and well wishers lined the streets of Rogers City, cheering the players as they walked by as part of a victory parade.
Above all, the Hurons did it by playing darn good softball the entire season. They consistency put in hard work and the results paid off. Rogers City finished the year battling well over .400 as a team with more than 100 extra base hits and almost 50 home runs.
They make so many sacrifices and I'm just so proud of these girls because all of their hard work has paid off," Rogers City assistant coach Gary Bisson said. "When you have kids coming in every Sunday, working on their hitting, pitching, fielding or whatever we do in there, it's just unbelievable and success breeds itself."
They got a taste of tough competition in April, when they went 2-1 at a tournament in Portage. That tournament featured five teams who played in the state finals this weekend and the Hurons also walked away from it with an 8-4 win over Kalamazoo Christian.
As the year wore on, the Hurons continued to pick up steam and when the playoffs started, there was no stopping them. One by one, they mowed down one good team after another, waiting patiently to wear an opposing pitcher down and tightening the noose once they did. In seven playoff games, the Hurons outscored their opponents 57-12.
They got the last laugh against Posen, besting their North Star League rivals in the district semifinals and took care of Hillman in the district final. They edged Rapid River in regionals and took home a regional title on their home field, another first.
They made some stellar defensive plays in the quarterfinal and once they arrived in East Lansing, they looked like they belonged there.
Nerves were their undoing in previous years, but this time the Hurons knew they belonged and proved it with their play. They mercied Fowler in the semifinals, a rarity given the caliber of teams in any division's final four and when the title game with the Comets rolled around, they were as confident as ever.
"None of us were nervous and we just came in to it like it was another other game," senior pitcher Nikki Radke said. "We were just ready to play and ready to bring home the trophy."
Two years ago, the Hurons' motto was "Why not us?" and last year it was "What's important now."
This year it was, "Believe, Achieve."
What's a good slogan for next season?
How about, "Let's keep it going!"
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.