Wildcats aiming to get past regionals

Logan Myers knows well the pressure of playing in a softball regional.

As one of 32 teams left standing in each division, the pressure can be daunting, especially when a win usually comes by one or two runs and puts one team closer to a dream of a state championship, while sending the loser home.

Myers will play in her third consecutive regional today when the Alpena High School softball team takes on Flint Kearsley in a Division 1 regional semifinal at noon at Saginaw Valley State University.

The winner advances to play the winner of the Bay City Western-Ortonville-Brandon semifinal. Ortonville is the only team not to appear in this regional last season.

As Alpena’s only senior, Myers knows winning a regional is a tall task, but she’s also reminded her teammates to approach the game the same way they have all season.

“It’s a very surreal feeling to be on a college field. There’s a lot of pressure. I definitely remember feeling a lot of pressure on myself, but I’ve been trying to tell the girls to remember it’s just one more game,” Myers said. “There’s nothing different about the game at Saginaw Valley than being on our home field.”

Alpena advanced to the regional final two years ago before losing to Swartz Creek. Last season, Western toppled the Wildcats in the regional semifinals.

When the Wildcats take the field today, not only will they be playing the Hornets for the third time this season, they’ll also be playing a team that’s a lot like them.

For starters, Alpena has just one senior, but the rest of the roster is loaded with talent. Alex Peters and Desiree Robertson have regional experience as well and Elise Leeck, Jenna VanDusen and Mary Schimmel are among those who got their first taste of regional play last season and have fit nicely into the lineup this year.

Kearsley has three seniors this season, but a lot of up and coming talent to compliment them.

Both teams rely on their sophomore aces to get the job done on the mound. Lauren Heath has filled the role quite nicely for Alpena and Sydney Ouellette leads the Hornets.

Both pitchers aren’t strangers to pressure situations either. Oulette helped Kearsley edge Swartz Creek 3-2 for a district title, pitching a complete game, striking out six and pitching her way out of three bases-loaded situations. Heath threw a complete game against Marquette in an 11-3 district title win, striking out seven and allowing just five hits and only one for extra bases.

“I think it’s really exciting. A lot of us our really young and we’ve never been to regionals. It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s a new experience for us too,” Heath said. “I think I’ve gotten a lot more experience and matured a lot more. In (certain) situations, I know if I throw the ball in certain places, my team’s going to back me up and defend the ball.”

Alpena opened the season against Kearsley and split a doubleheader, winning the first game 3-2 and losing the nightcap 4-2. The Wildcats aren’t expecting an easier game this time around, especially against Oulette, who has five pitches in her arsenal and has a hard hitting lineup backing her up.

“The games were well played. It was our first two of the year. I believe that had two or three doubleheaders in at that point,” Alpena coach Paul Marwede said. “Looking back seven weeks ago, those were well played games between two good programs and we expect nothing less than that this time around.”

Should the Wildcats advance to the final, they’re likely to run into Western, a perennial powerhouse who is ranked fourth in Division 1. The Warriors (33-3) are looking for their fourth regional title in five years and lost in the state finals last season. This year Western boasts a deep, powerful lineup that’s got several hitters batting well over .500 and has combined for 31 home runs in 36 games.

At the heart of Western’s lineup is senior Hannah Leppek, a do-everything player who pitched a four-hit shutout against the Wildcats last season with 15 strikeouts. This season, she’s battling .504 with 11 home runs and 51 RBIs. On the mound she’s got 29 wins and 254 strikeouts, an average of almost nine per game.

Alpena accomplished one of its major goals last week by winning a district title and Marwede is hopeful they can add another accomplishment to the list today.

“It’s a big step. For these kids, for this team it’s important and a chance to move on. Our goal coming into the season was to get past regionals and we’ve stumbled there the last couple years,” Marwede said. “For me, it’s like college football and qualifying for the postseason: each win gives you another week to advance and improve.”

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