Hurons top Inland Lakes for 3rd straight regional championship

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki The Rogers City softball team celebrates after defeating Inland Lakes 4-2 in a Class D regional championship game on Saturday at Indian River. The Hurons won a regional title for the third consecutive season.

INDIAN RIVER — For the past three years, Indian River Inland Lakes has been Rogers City’s kryptonite on the softball field.

The defending state champion Bulldogs and No. 1 ranked Hurons took care of business in their respective regional semifinal games which set up for another showdown between the two Class D juggernauts on Saturday.

The game once again lived up to the hype, but this time Rogers City was able to get the monkey off its back by knocking off Inland Lakes 4-2 in a thriller that ended with senior Kayla Rabeau making an incredible diving catch to propel the Hurons to victory.

“After realizing I made the catch, I just realized that I got this and it was over and I just started crying, that’s all I could do was cry,” Rabeau said.

Rogers City advances to play Rudyard in a quarterfinal matchup at 2 p.m. on Tuesday in Petoskey.

Tears of joy were shed immediately after Rabeau hauled in the remarkable grab to end the game as Huron players, coaches and fans were relieved because they had been on the losing side of this rivalry in recent years.

“This is sweet. It’s sweet because they were the defending state champions and they’re a great softball team and to win it on their home field is fantastic,” Rogers City coach Karl Grambau said. “It’s sweet especially for our four seniors who have been on the opposite side of this in the past and to win and keep on going is sweet and I’m so proud of the entire team.”

The game was a tightly contested battle the entire way with every pitch, every out, every base runner and every run being crucial.

Inland Lakes opened the scoring in top of the second when Gracey Henckel hit a solo home run to lead off the frame.

Henckel started on the mound and was dealing early, striking out five batters in the first two innings.

Rogers City took a lead in the home half of the third when Hannah Fleming belted a two-out, two run home run to put the Hurons up 2-1.

The Bulldogs tied the game up at two in the fourth when Makayla Henckel led off with a single and came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Amber Passino.

Both teams were deadlocked at two going to the bottom of the sixth.

Kyrsten Altman led off the inning with a hard line drive to center field that ended up deflecting off the center fielder’s glove and over the fence for a home run.

With a 3-2 lead, Rogers City had runners on first and second when leadoff batter Jayna Hance stepped to the plate.

Hance fell behind 0-2, but battled back to make the count full and won the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Hance ripped a base hit up the middle to score Amanda Wirgau and give the Hurons an important insurance run.

“I never look for a walk, I look for a hit. I knew if the pitch was close I was going to it because I wanted to get that runner in and fortunately that is what happened,” Hance said.

Despite trailing by two runs, the Bulldogs didn’t go away without a fight.

The first two batters reached base safely for Inland Lakes to begin the seventh, setting up runners at second and third with nobody out.

Grambau called timeout to meet with his team and settle the girls down.

“The biggest thing was we just wanted to keep everyone calm and that we were okay and had a lead,” Grambau said. “We just needed to be smart and start with getting an out.”

Altman pitched the game of her life and the sophomore came through when her team needed her the most, striking out the next two batters before Mara Clancy popped a ball into foul territory down the third base line when Rabeau came through with a heroic catch.

“It was crazy. I was shaking, my heart was pounding and I just knew I that those were the most important outs of the game and I knew I had get it done,” Altman said. “I’m so glad Kayla made the catch, it was just so amazing.”

The Hurons made quick work of Pellston in the regional semifinal game, scoring 10 runs in the first inning and going on to win by a final of 19-1 in four innings.

Rabeau hit a two run home run and Fleming blasted a grand slam in the win.

“It’s just been a total team effort throughout the season with different kids doing different things and everyone has a role and does what they’re supposed to,” Grambau said. “I’m just really happy for these kids and so proud of this team.”

Jonny Zawacki can be reached via email at jzawacki@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5690.