Alpena softball team hoping to make up for close loss in 2012 regional final

Abby MacArthur knows all too well how one run can spell the difference between elation and disappointment in playoff softball.

MacArthur and the Alpena softball team reached the regional final last season, but fell to Swartz Creek 2-1. The loss came on the back of a 3-2 win over Lapeer West in the regional semifinals.

“Obviously a lot of games in softball, they can go either way and sometimes the cards turn out your way and sometimes not,” MacArthur said. “That game, remembering how close it was, and we could’ve had it. We really want to make it happen this year. We all want to go to the states.”

MacArthur and the Wildcats (21-10) will get another chance at capturing a regional title when they play Bay City Western at 10 a.m. today in a Division 1 regional semifinal at Saginaw Valley State University. The winner will play either Flint Kearsley or Grand Blanc in the regional final.

To get a shot at playing for a regional title however, the Wildcats will have to muscle past a powerhouse.

Western (33-2) is currently the third-ranked team in Division 1 and is coming off its fourth district title in five years after a 15-2 rout of Bay City Central in the district final. The Warriors also won three straight regional championships from 2009-11.

Alpena will also have to contend with Warriors’ ace Hannah Leppek who is 21-1 on the season with a 1.09 earned run average and 190 strikeouts. At the plate, Western has one of the best hitting lineups in the state and every player in the lineup hits the ball well. Junior shortstop Meredith Rousse (.526, 53 runs, 28 RBI), junior centerfielder KayLynn Carpenter (.441, 41 runs, 40 RBI) and Leppek (.490, 35 RBI) are among those hitters that Alpena pitchers will have to be wary off.

While the Warriors have an impressive lineup, Alpena might be playing some of its best softball right now after it rallied back from a one-run deficit last week and ultimately topped Marquette 3-2 in a thrilling 3-2 district final.

Alpena boasts a solid lineup of its own that showed last week that if hitters can get their pitches, the Wildcats can pile up runs quickly. Alpena tacked five runs on the board in the first inning last week against Traverse City Central in a 9-2 win and continued to hit the ball well all day, finishing with 22 hits.

The Wildcats know well the pressures of close playoff games and aren’t approaching today’s game any differently.

We’re all ready to bring it together. We’re all kind of peaking at the same time. Our batting’s come together, our fielding’s come together and we’re ready to see what we can do and challenge ourselves,” senior outfielder Shannon Kapala said. “It was a close game (last year in the regional final) and we learned a lot. It was a close game, so it made us fight harder because in close games you have to whatever you can.

If today’s Division 4 regional in Sault Ste. Marie looks familiar to Posen, Rapid River, Rogers City and Rudyard, that’s because it is.

All four teams made the regional in Sault last season and Rapid River came away with the championship after a 2-1 win over Posen and a 6-1 win over Rogers City in the final.

This year’s regional won’t be any easier for any of the four teams, three of which are ranked in the top. 10 – Rogers City is third, Posen is eighth and Rapid River is tenth. Posen and Rogers City will play in the first semifinal at 10 a.m. and Rapid River will play Rudyard at noon.

While each of the four teams is a year older and a year more improved, history might be in Rapid River’s corner. The Rockets (17-14) have reached the semifinals in three of the last four seasons and traditionally entered regionals as the team to beat.

This year is no different as the Rockets won three district games by a combined 28-2 score. The Rockets lost nearly a dozen games due to poor weather, but made up for it with a tough schedule that saw them play some Division 1 and Division 2 teams. Rapid River lost five seniors, including star pitcher Heather Sanderson, but the team pulled five freshmen on to the roster and now seems to be finding its stride.

“We played a tough schedule than we had before, but we’re hoping that investment pays off now that we’re facing tougher teams in the playoffs,” Rapid River coach George Canyuh said. “It’s taken two-thirds of our season to see where our efforts are paying off.”

Posen marched to a district title last week while Rogers City knocked off Onaway in a tight semifinal game before easily beating Inland Lakes.

The two squads split a doubleheader early last month and play a similar style of softball, balancing solid pitching with a high scoring offense.

“Both teams are familiar with each other. A lot of our kids know they’re kids and it’s going to be a very intriguing matchup,” Posen coach Glenn Budnick said. “The girls are optimistic about their chances. If we play our style of softball and do everything the right way, we’re a pretty tough team to beat, but Rogers City, Rapid River and Rudyard all feel the same way.”

In a Division 4 regional at Bay City All Saints, Mio will play Merrill in a semifinal at 10 a.m. The winner will face either Brown City or Ubly in the championship game at 2 p.m.