Alcona, Onaway and Atlanta among teams in regional baseball action today

The dust has cleared from district baseball play and three area baseball teams have survived to make it to today’s regional playoffs:

Onaway will face Atlanta in a semifinal in Sault Ste. Marie while Alcona will face Merrill at a regional in Bay City All Saints.

Atlanta (22-2) made school history last Saturday winning the school’s first district baseball title. The Huskies have beaten Onaway twice this year but, aren’t taking the Cardinals for granted.

“It’s gonna be tough, Onaway is a great team, but we’re just as tough. From this point on, we know there isn’t a team that won’t challenge us but I believe at our best we can beat any team,” Atlanta coach Sean Barrett said.

The Huskies rode the back of solid pitching from both Garrett Badgero and Jake Chambers in districts and backed up that success with offensive power.

“We’re treating it like just another game but we’re also pretty excited. We really want to win and we’re just going to go about our business and do what we always do to win,” Chambers said.

The Huskies have a solid lineup of hitters that can be hard to stop. Especially effective for Atlanta in districts were catcher Taylor Juergens who went 3-for-4 against Hillman and Jacob Dobbyn who picked up three singles.

Juergens is especially important to Atlanta’s defense and was praised by his coach as “the best catcher in the league.”

“It’s a bigger game (regionals) and it’s something we’re not used to but we can’t let that get to our heads. We just gotta go out there and play like we always do,” Juergens said.

Onaway’s 7-6 come-from-behind victory over Rogers City in the district semifinals gave the Cardinals (20-6) the chance to take out Inland Lakes 15-3 for their first district championship since 2000.

The Cardinals from a 6-2 deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning against Rogers City with some timely hitting, but Onaway coach Mike Crull knows his team will get a tough test from Atlanta.

“We expect a lot of pitching (from Atlanta). Garrett Badgero is one of the hardest throwing pitchers we’ve ever come across and he knows how to change it up and really keep you off balance. We’re fortunate to have our best luck against the harder throwing pitchers,” Crull said.

The Cardinals were unable to throw their best pitchers, Andrew Prow and Matt Tollini, against the Huskies in the regular season, a fact Crull believes contributed to their losses.

“Andrew is a first team all-conference pitcher, but we also have the luxury of having Matt Tollini, who’s really come through this year as a pitcher,” coach Mike Crull said.

Top hitters like Chris Cleaver and Tommy Auger could create offensive momentum against a defensively tight Atlanta squad while Prow and his defenders try to hold off Atlanta’s hitters.

“The difference with us is in the defense. I think that if we play strong defensively we can beat any given team any day of the week. The only two conference games we lost all year were to Mancelona and we played weak defense. If we focus on making the easy plays, putting the ball in the right spot and avoiding errors, we’ll be on our way to the championship game,” Crull said.

The winner of this game will face either Norway or Rudyard in the championship game.

Alcona’s 7-0 win over Mio in the first round of districts helped set up a big 10-2 win over Arenac Eastern for the championship. This is the second year in a row Alcona (25-10) has made it to regionals.

Pitcher Cody Franklin, who nearly threw a perfect game in the win against Mio, is lined up to pitch in the Tigers’ regional semifinal game against Merrill.

“I just get out there, throw strikes and try to stay ahead of the count. I might get a little nervous before I pitch, but after I start that goes away real quick,” Franklin said.

Franklin’s quiet confidence is echoed by his coach, Terry Franklin.

“There’s nothing different about this game. We just go out and do the same thing we do every time. We’ll still be focusing on fielding, hitting and avoiding errors. Merrill is a good team with a great pitcher (Hunter Debeau) but in the regionals everybody is at about the same talent level ” Franklin said.

Rightfielder Joe Hudgins is trying to focus on staying positive.

“It’s all mental. If you picture yourself going out there and making the catch or swinging and connecting with the ball you’ll do it. My batting average is in the high .300s this year so I know it’s working for me,” he said.

Hudgins is just one solid hitter on an Alcona squad that seems to rarely miss. Pitcher and catcher Nathan Fettes wields a powerful bat while first baseman Austin Richardson also has the power to clear the bases. Placement hitters like Jared Steiner and Trenton Lavergne have also come up big at key times this season as well.

If Alcona wins, the Tigers will face either Brown City or Harbor Beach for the regional championship.