Experienced Hurons aim for first semifinal appearance since 2004

ROGERS CITY-When Rogers City softball coach Karl Grambau looks at his squad this season, he sees some shades of 2004.

If that’s the case, then the Hurons’ season might end up being very special.

Grambau’s 2004 team finished as state runner up in Division 4 after a series of tight, thrilling playoff games and Rogers City will play in its first quarterfinal since then when it faces Frankfort at noon today at Traverse City West High School.

“We were the Cardiac Kids in 2004. We came from behind and won every game it seemed. This reminds me of that, a very similar group as a far as coming from behind,” Grambau said. “These girls believe that somebody’s gonna get a big hit, somebody’s going to come through when they’re on base. We’ll be behind, and they’re hollering ‘I believe in you, I believe in you.’ It’s just a true team that picks one another up.”

Like Rogers City’s 2004 team, this year’s edition has a knack for come-from-behind victories as well. The Hurons edged Onaway 6-5 in a district semifinal, rallied to top Posen in a regional semifinal 9-8 and topped it off by bouncing back against Rapid River, 6-3, to win a regional title.

It’s been an especially thrilling ride for Rogers City’s four seniors, who were among a group of nine returning players for the Hurons and entered the year with high expectations.

It’s definitely the cherry on top of my senior season and my high school career. Last year we got out in the finals at regionals, which was devastating,” senior infielder Rebecca Meredith said. “I felt for our seniors and I hope that for my team, as a senior, that they can help carry us to a state title. It’s like a dream right now.”

While the Hurons (30-6) are in the midst of one of their best seasons in years, the Panthers (24-14) are having also having a solid season and are playing their best softball at the right time. Frankfort is 18-7 since the beginning of May, after rallying for a pair of wins over Ann Arbor Greenhills and Lutheran Northwest in a tournament in Rochester Hills.

The Panthers are also no stranger to playoff success. They’ve won seven district titles in the last nine years and reached the state finals in 2007.

Unlike a lot of playoff teams that ride one pitcher as far as they can, Rogers City has used a pitching by committee approach to great effect this season. The loss of all-state pitcher Melissa Pomranke to graduation left a void that Idalski, Alexa Quaine and Nikki Radke have filled quite easily and they’re happy to share the load. In the regional title game, Idalski pitched the first 2 2/3 innings before giving way to Quaine. Radke started on the mound against Posen and Idalski later came on in relief.

Behind the trio is a team that’s improved tremendously at the plate after a series of new offseason drills. The Hurons have blasted 24 home runs this season and have had more extra extra base hits than in the last few seasons.

“It feels good because we’ve already surpassed our goal from last year,” senior outfielder Nikkie LaLonde said. “We have a really good team and we improve each day.”

The Hurons have done quite a bit of traveling in last few weeks, but they’ve taken a small piece of home with them to each game.

Before regionals last weekend, Meredith and Brooklyn Idalski, the team’s co-captains, came up with the idea of taking small bags of sand, dirt and grass from the Hurons’ home field and having each player spread them out around at their defensive positions.

The team plans to repeat the ritual for today’s game.

“Brooklyn and I got the idea of taking sand from our field so we’d have the home field advantage. That’s when I tried to get them pumped up,” Meredith said.

The winner of today’s game advances to a semifinal in Battle Creek on Friday against either Gobles or Kalamazoo Christian.

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.