Ready for a rematch
Rogers City to face Inland Lakes in quarterfinal matchup
ROGERS CITY–Amanda Wirgau still remembers clearly the feeling of last season’s quarterfinal loss.
The stinging feeling, the pain of losing and ultimately a missed opportunity to advance further in the postseason.
But in the aftermath of arguably one of the most painful losses in program history, the Hurons resolved to come back stronger.
That resolve has carried the Hurons (34-5) back to a familiar spot. For the fourth time in six seasons the Hurons are in the Division 4 quarterfinals. They’ll play top-ranked Indian River Inland Lakes (37-5) at 5 p.m. at Gaylord High School.
Today’s matchup marks the third consecutive year the two teams have met in the postseason and it’s a matchup both teams have been waiting for this season.
Last year, the Hurons faced the Bulldogs and fell behind 8-0 after four and a half innings in a quarterfinal in Traverse City. Rogers City steadily worked its way back into the game and looked poised for a walk-off win, but it didn’t come to pass. The Hurons loaded the bases with one out in the seventh and failed to score the tying run on a fly ball to right field for the second out. Inland Lakes then induced a groundout to escape the jam and end the game.
“Coach (Karl Grambau) owned up to (it), like ‘Oh, I should have sent her. He took the blame for that himself. But the team didn’t blame him at all. We knew we could stick together and pull through next year,” Wirgau said. “Definitely we all did (use it as motivation). We’re ready to beat them this year.”
A rematch with Inland Lakes also means a chance for redemption against Inland Lakes pitcher Chloe Mallory.
Mallory, the Central Michigan-bound senior, has been the bane of the fourth-ranked Hurons for the last two seasons and is just as dominant this season.
Mallory was dominant Saturday while leading the Bulldogs to their third consecutive regional title. She struck out 17 batters in the regional semifinals against Norway, including the first 12 she faced.
The Hurons know well Mallory’s propensity for strikeouts. She set down seven of the first nine Rogers City batters she faced last season and finished the game with 12. The year before, Mallory fanned 13 Hurons in a regional final.
With Mallory’s mix of speed and movement, the Hurons know they have to patient if they hope to hit her. Patience paid off big last year and the Hurons are hoping it does again today.
“We’ve practiced at her speed and know what she’s throwing (so) we can (try to predict) what’s coming (today),” Taylor Fleming said.
Freshman Kyrsten Altman is one of the few players on Rogers City’s roster who has never faced Mallory, but she’s gotten tips from the Hurons’ veterans on how to prepare against one of the toughest pitchers the Hurons will face this season.
“Some of the veterans of the team have told me to expect rise balls to be high and just that she’s really fast, so I’ve got to keep a short swing and be ready for anything,” Altman said.
Like the Hurons, the Bulldogs returned the bulk of their roster this season and have a solid mix of speed and power. Pamela Braud and Precious Delos Santos provide speed at the top of the lineup with Mallory and Vanessa Wandrie providing power in the three and four spots. Even No. 9 hitter Sydney DePauw is capable of hitting for power and proved it last season, hitting a home run against the Hurons.
For the Hurons to win today against a team that equals them in many respects, they’re aiming to play their game and work together.
“It’s all mental and we have to prepare for them. It’s either we’re on our game or we’re not and we’re going to be on it,” Wirgau said. “I’d have to say staying together (has made us successful) because when we’re all together it works and that’s what we’ve been doing every single game.”
The winner of today’s game will play either Kalamazoo Christian or Mendon in the semifinals on Friday in East Lansing.
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.