Back for another shot
Rogers City aiming for different result in semifinals
This year is going to be different.
Amanda Wirgau can feel it.
Even if she can’t explain it.
“The team, you can just feel the difference in the games,” Wirgau, Rogers City’s senior catcher, said. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
Whatever it is–be it good vibes, good luck, lots of talent or maybe some combination of all three–something does feels different about this team. It’s playing hard, staying loose and keeping its focus even as the postseason has tested the Hurons more than in past years.
Now a tougher test looms as the Hurons (27-7) play Unionville-Sebewaing (28-9) in the second of two Division 4 semifinals at 12:30 p.m., Friday at Michigan State University’s Seccia Stadium.
It’ll be a challenge to be sure. The games only get tougher the further you go in the playoffs and Unionville is a veteran program, which has looked unstoppable in the postseason.
But as the stakes have gotten bigger, the Hurons have seemingly gotten better and proven that no moment seems to be too big for them to handle.
Now, as they sit two wins away from a state championship, the message all week from players and coaches has been the same: stay calm.
Take a deep breath. Slow down. Enjoy the moment and make the most of it, but don’t let it overwhelm you.
Go out and play Huron softball and let the chips fall where they may.
“I think it’s really exciting that we get to go back again and show them we really belong there,” senior Catheryn Hart said. “This year we know what it’s like and what it’s all about.”
Last year, the nervousness seemed to kick in the minute the Hurons arrived in East Lansing.
Nerves over playing in a big college stadium; playing in front of hundreds of fans in the stands; realizing the enormity of the moment.
It was all too much and for many players, the day was a blur. Details of their 2-0 semifinal loss to Coleman are hard to recall even a year later.
The Hurons’ play said enough: no runs, three hits, 11 strikeouts.
“I remember that we were all excited and nervous because it was (this group’s) first time going down there and our first time in this huge facility,” senior Alissa Bowden said. “But what I can take away from that is that the experience and just being down there, it’s hard to explain, because (everything moved so fast).”
The Hurons planned on a different approach this year. After leaving town to the cheers of supportive fans on Thursday, they planned to head directly to Secchia Stadium to take in some of the Class A semifinals.
The reason for the trip is simple: soak in the atmosphere, get familiar with the field and appreciate just how far you’ve come.
Because when they return Friday, the Hurons will be all about business.
Now they’re on a mission, the same as their opponent: win the semifinal and give yourself a chance to walk away with a state championship.
It’s easy to look at Rogers City’s run over the last eight years and almost expect them to be in East Lansing every year, the way other programs like Unionville have made it an annual rite of June.
But this year’s run was anything but guaranteed.
Not after you lose five players from a team that went 31-6 and reached the semifinals, including the top third of your batting order. Not when you lose big-time contributors at key positions–all-staters like Jayna Hance, Kayla Rabeau and Hannah Fleming.
But the Hurons have been here before, rebuilding and reloading after losing all-time great players. Good teams find ways to fill spots and put their teams in position to win and give credit to coach Karl Grambau and his assistants for doing it again.
“If you look at the roster we had last year down at the Final Four, there’s so many new faces on this year’s team. It’s just a tribute to these kids and how hard they’ve worked,” Grambau said. “We’ve had different kids play different spots, we’ve tried different things and we’ve got girls that have stepped up and really done a nice job. You can put whatever you want on paper, but until you get on that field (you don’t know).”
Any uncertainty the Hurons had was quickly erased when they finally got outside. Once they got a chance to show what they could do, they liked what they saw.
All they’ve done since then is win and in the postseason, they’ve stayed composed and produced one big moment after another.
No matter if they’re behind or not, there’s no panic. They bide their time, cheer a little louder and wait for their moment. That optimism has been rewarded several times over the last two weeks whether it’s Karissa Rabeau’s two-run single in the quarterfinals, Brooke Saile’s home run in the regional final or the team’s collective offensive rally in the district final.
“We’re always cheering. We’re always up (staying positive) in the dugout,” junior pitcher Kyrsten Altman said. “(On Tuesday), we had our defense cheer going on. That just really helped us get into it and not focus on the bad things.”
If history is any indication, Rogers City’s nerves last season may be a good omen.
In 2013, a nervous and rushed Rogers City squad took the field for the semifinals and lost.
With experience under their belt, the Hurons returned with confidence to East Lansing the next season and left with the state title.
Only time will tell if history repeats itself again.