TRAVERSE CITY-The Atlanta Huskies baseball team (24-2) keeps confounding expectations this year by consistently pushing further and further into the playoffs as the first baseball team in school history to make it to the quarterfinals.
The Huskies will try to keep their season going as they face Maple City Glen today at noon at Traverse City West High School in a Division 4 quarterfinal.
Maple City Glen Lake (27-7) is no laughing matter for Atlanta as the Lakers ended their season ranked 12th in the state. However, Lakers head coach Kris Herman isn't laughing at the Huskies successes, either.
Atlanta hitter Garrett Badgero
"They're a solid team, very good. Any team that makes it to the quarterfinals is good and fundamentally strong. We're expecting an aggressive team offensively and we're not anticipating a lot of strike outs at the plate," he said.
Atlanta has proven to be one of the most formidable opponents in Division 4 baseball this year. The Huskies have only lost two games, one against perennial rival Hillman, but have otherwise consistently hit against tough pitchers, played tight defense against hard hitters and pulled together when it counted to win the games that mattered.
A perfect example of this came in the regional final game against Norway when Atlanta lost their starting pitcher for the game. Josh Barrett, normally Atlanta's second baseman, came in to pitch and shutout Norway for three innings. The Huskies were able to hold Norway to one run as they scored two runs of their own to take the win.
Another key moment in the championship game came when catcher Taylor Juergens snagged a pop fly with two outs in the sixth inning to shut down a potential scoring situation for Norway.
"When Taylor's on his A game, we're hard to beat. When he's throwing out kids at the plate, he stops them from scoring by keeping a big presence behind the plate," Atlanta pitcher Garrett Badgero said.
Badgero is one of the key components for Atlanta and he's backed up by an air tight defensive. Outfielders Kyle Klein, Jay Webster and Caleb Cumper are rarely out of position and know how to hustle to snag the big hits.
Webster was particularly effective in the regionals, snagging several close call fly balls that would have turned into runs if the ball had dropped.
The Lakers have a solid bedrock of core players that rarely let their team down. Pitcher Thomas Waning is a solid pitcher, but also picked up a .437 batting average as of district play. Shortstop Curtis Bunek is a rock solid defender as well as the Lakers vital leadoff hitter. Catcher Trevor Aspey rarely lets a ball get by his glove while Austin Odziana anchors the infield on first base.
"If those guys are hitting and playing well, we win games. We've had contributions from everybody on the team but those guys have been our big players offensively as well as defensively," Herman said.
Winning against Maple City Glen Lake may revolve around shutting down these key players, holding off scoring and picking up a run or two. Whoever wins isn't likely to win by more than a handful of runs.
Facing an unknown pitcher will be a tough challenge for Atlanta and it will have to adjust quickly to Waning's pitching style to generate the morale sapping offensive momentum it's possessed all year.
"We know that they have a pretty good pitcher but that's about all we know. We're going to have to go into the game like a normal game and play Atlanta baseball the way we have all year," Badgero said.
At the quarterfinal level, no game is going to be easy and no team will be a pushover. Everybody on the Atlanta team will have to work together and stay focused for the win.
"Our infield has been playing great all year. We had a really good practice (on Monday) where we had a lot of fun. We always try to have fun. We obviously want to win and we want to do what we can to win but if we're having fun we play better and it increases our chances to win," Badgero said.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.