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Hurons hoping to continue success in close games

Rogers City softball coach Karl Grambau said his team had saved him a trip to the hospital for a stress test after it won a district title a few weeks ago.

Grambau was joking then, he might as well have been describing the bulk of the Hurons’ postseason run.

Close games have been the hallmark of the Hurons’ postseason and they’re hoping those experiences pay off Friday in their toughest test of the season.

They play Unionville-Sebewaing in a Division 4 semifinal at Michigan State University’s Secchia Stadium at 12:30 p.m.

The Hurons’ playoff run has seen a little bit of everything so far: a 1-0 win over Johannesburg-Lewiston, a 9-2 win over Hillman that was deadlocked at 2-2 until the ninth inning, a 7-0 win over Onaway that was scoreless for three innings, a 2-1 win over Rudyard.

Rogers City’s one-run win over Rudyard in the quarterfinals proved to be the closest margin of victory for any of the teams in the final four. Two teams–Coleman and Unionville won in shutouts by 10 and 13 runs respectively–and the other, Kalamazoo Christian won by 10 in a mercy-rule victory.

It’s a lot to handle for the Hurons (27-8), but they’ve learned from each win and gained experience for even bigger moments.

“I think it will help because the intensity of those games was very high. We just really had to stay focused and get done what we had to get done,” junior Kyrsten Altman said. “We have so far, so hopefully we can do it down there.”

Both teams are looking for redemption in today’s semifinal after being shutout last season. Rogers City lost to Coleman 2-0 in one semifinal and Unionville was blanked by eventual champion Centreville 4-0 in the other.

If the Hurons are to reach Saturday’s final, they’ll have to get through arguably one of the hottest teams in Division 4 to do it.

The Patriots are no stranger to postseason success and been a mainstay in the final four. Since 2012, the Patriots have made it to the season’s final weekend six times, won back-to-back Division 4 championships in 2015 and 2016 and finished runner-up in the Division 3 title game in 2013 and 2014.

Unionville has bulldozed its way through the postseason thus far, outscoring its opponents 58-0 in five games. The latest shutout came on Tuesday when the Patriots breezed by Allen Park Inter-City Baptist 13-0 in the quarterfinals.

Rogers City and Unionville played each other in early May and the Hurons triumphed 4-3. Another close game might be expected Friday, but it will be a truer test for both teams. Several Rogers City players were returning from a trip and the Hurons admittedly didn’t play their best.

“They (Unionville) have a great program, great tradition. We’re just going to do our best. It’s anybody’s game,” Grambau said. “We’re confident if we play Huron softball, good things will happen.”

Rogers City is battled-tested ahead of Friday’s game, but they’re counting on their ability to stay calm in big moments to return to the finals for the first time since 2014.

“We stay calm by telling each other we can do this and just little things like that. Going to the plate and taking a deep breath, going to the outfield and taking a deep breath, try to tell each other jokes,” senior Alissa Bowden said. “I think especially playing Onaway (helped). That’s our rival and we just really buckled down and focused. That’s what we need to do at MSU on Friday.”

The next two days will be a gauntlet for whichever team ultimately ends up as state champion. Friday’s early semifinal between Coleman and Kalamazoo Christian will match up the preseason No. 1 and No. 2 team and Rogers City’s game matches up the preseason No. 3 (Rogers City) and No. 5 teams respectively.