Districts provide lots of surprises

When it comes to the playoffs, the only sure thing is that nothing’s for sure.

That adage certainly rang true as local baseball and softball teams opened the postseason this past week in district play.

While it looked like several local squads would be hoisting district trophies by Saturday afternoon, as of today there are only two teams left standing: Alpena softball and Rogers City softball.

That’s one of the great things about sports. You can assume and make all the predictions you want about who’s going to win a particular game. But the game still has to be played between the two teams and whoever is the best team on a particular day is going to win.

The Alcona baseball team breezed through the regular season and looked like a lock to win a third straight district title with a squad full of talented seniors and one of the best pitchers in the area in Cody Franklin.

Not so much.

On Wednesday, Au Gres managed to baffle Alcona’s lineup with a pitcher who wasn’t exactly throwing heat and the Wolverines shocked the Tigers 4-2.

That day before, the Hillman baseball team, another favorite to win, went down to the wire with Johannesburg-Lewiston. The Tigers were ahead 10-8 entering the bottom of the ninth inning and the Cardinals proceeded to score three runs-all with two outs-to shock Hillman and send the Tigers home.

Fast forward to Saturday’s Division 1 baseball district final in Traverse City, where Alpena faced Traverse City Central-a team the Wildcats had beaten up on by a combined 20-3 score earlier in the week. Alpena boasted arguably one of its deepest pitching staffs in years and a lineup that returned nearly everyone from last year’s team. All the pieces seemed to be in place for the Wildcats to bring home their first district since 2010.

Not this time.

Central’s Cooper Marshall had other plans and pitched a three-hitter to stun the Wildcats and send the Trojans and their 11-22 record to regionals.

Even in Johannesburg, the host Cardinals brushed past a solid Atlanta squad and knocked around an under the radar Rogers City team that ran out of pitchers.

The outcomes weren’t as shocking on the softball end of things, but there were still a few interesting developments along the way.

The first of two semifinals in Joburg, Rogers City vs. Posen, had championship game written all over it. After all, these two schools had been ranked among the top 10 in Class D all season, they’re county rivals and Posen had gotten the better of the Hurons in a doubleheader in early May.

When Ashley Meyers doubled for Posen to start the game, it looked like it was the beginning of what would be a back-and-forth contest. Over the next few innings though, the game turned one-sided real quick.

Posen’s crumbled defensively and aided the Hurons’ quest for a third straight district title by allowing Rogers City to score runs on an error, a wild pitch and a passed ball respectively. Whereas Posen was held to just two hits between the second and fifth innings, the Hurons knocked the cover off the ball.

Before the game, Rogers City coach Karl Grambau had stressed patience to his team and it paid off in a big way. By the time Sarah Meredith launched a ball over the center field fence in the fourth inning to give Rogers City a 7-1 lead, the Vikings’ sails seemed to deflate a bit.

It was a tough ending for the Vikings, who had aspirations of another trip to regionals and for Meyers, Posen’s stalwart pitcher who set a school record for wins and was a cornerstone in Posen’s lineup for several years.

“I think she’s one of the best the state’s ever seen in Division 4, let alone Northeast Michigan,” Posen coach Glenn Budnick said. “She’s obviously going to be a big hole to fill on the mound and in the lineup, but just the way she led this team this year, her leadership was second to none.”

In the final, Rogers City didn’t cool off and scattered 10 runs and 11 hits against Hillman’s senior ace Jensen Tchorzynski. Hillman collected just one extra base hit and didn’t have much of an answer for a team that was bound and determined to secure a regional spot in its hometown.

With Posen, Hillman and Rogers City all clumped together in the same district for the first time in four years, it wouldn’t have been all that surprising if Hillman or Posen had won instead of the Hurons. All three teams are very competitive every year and Saturday just happened to be the Hurons’ day.

What is a little surprising though is the ease with which the Hurons won, almost imposing their will on their opponents and doing everything so well, whether it was being patient at the plate, making all the routine defensive plays or knowing what to do on the base paths to get into scoring position. The same goes for Alpena, which trounced Marquette 11-3 after the two teams played in a nine-inning nail-biter last year.

The Hurons will play at home Saturday against Rapid River and they’re hoping it’s just a pit stop on the way to East Lansing in a few weeks.

“I think it’s been building as the season’s been going and we can see it more and more every day,” Grambau said. “When the weather broke with the outside practices, you could almost sense it was coming.”

With at least one more week of local playoff softball to go, it’s a safe bet there will be a few more surprises along the way.

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