Back for another chance

ROGERS CITY-Early in the year, the members of the Rogers City softball team gathered together and wrote down their goals for the 2014 season.

The goals covered a wide range with everything from being supportive of one another to communicating on the field to being more aggressive on the basepaths.

One goal loomed about all else however: get to East Lansing; as in make a return trip to the Division 4 semifinals.

The Hurons accomplished that goal earlier this week and will play Fowler at 5 p.m. today at Michigan State’s Secchia Stadium in the second of two semifinals. The winner will play the winner of the Kalamazoo-Christian-Vestaburg semifinal on Saturday.

Rogers City (32-6) is making its second consecutive appearance in the semifinals. The Hurons earned a trip to Battle Creek last season, but lost to eventual champion Kalamazoo-Christian.

This time around, the Hurons are aiming for a different outcome.

“I think it will help this year because last year, I remember being so nervous and so worked about the game that it affected everyone’s performance,” Rachel Chojnacki said. “I think this year it will be a lot more low-key and we’ll all be focused.”

The fourth-ranked Hurons enter today’s game riding a considerable wave of momentum. Rogers City has beaten two ranked opponents in the postseason-No. 3 Posen, No. 10 Rapid River-and has outscored its opponents 43-9 in five playoff games. The Hurons punched their ticket to MSU with a 4-1 win over Central Lake on Tuesday in the quarterfinals.

Fowler (26-6) is one of the surprising stories of this year’s tournament and the Eagles are making their first semifinals appearance since 1997. While the Eagles may be a surprise team in this year’s final four, they’ve earned their way there with some impressive wins; the latest being a 5-1 win over No. 7 Westland Huron Valley Lutheran in the quarterfinals.

It should be an interesting test for both teams as they try to reach the finals. A win would put Rogers City in its second final since 2004 and a win for the Eagles would mark their first finals appearance.

“They like to put the ball and play and use their speed,” Rogers City coach Karl Grambau said. “Someone said if you’ve got a pretty good infield, you can compete with Fowler. We’ve got a good infield, so we’ll see what happens.”

The Hurons have not only played solid defense this postseason, they’ve supplemented it with top-notch pitching. Senior Nikki Radke is 16-4 this season and Alexa Quaine boasts a 14-2 record with a 1.88 ERA.

It’s all part of a routine that the Hurons follow and it’s paid off in spades.

“I think a lot of it is just focus. In practice we warm up, then we work on infield-outfield communication and then we do hitting and soft toss,” Cassie Brege said. “It’s all routine and we know what we’re doing.”

That includes hitting where the Hurons have put together another monster year at the plate. As a team, the Hurons are batting .454 with 47 home runs and more than 100 extra base hits. In addition to all the work they put in with assistant coach Gary Bisson, the Hurons are also patient at the plate and wait for good pitches to come to them. That patience has allowed them to be successful against some of the best pitchers in the state during their playoff run.

“We really work on hitting the good pitch especially because we don’t want to take anything that isn’t our perfect pitch, nothing we can’t hit,” Chojnacki said. “We also work on swinging straight through instead of trying to crank a grand slam.”

This afternoon, when Rogers City wrestling coach Pat Lamb gives his usual pre-game pep talk, the Hurons will likely think of how far they’ve come to reach this point. But they can also think back to earlier this season when they wrote those goals down on the covers of old softballs, cut them up and attached pieces of them to their travel bags as constant reminders of what they’re shooting for.

“I think it says a lot (about our program to reach the semifinals again). Last year kind of came out of the blue,” Morgan Hall said. “It’s really beneficial having so many girls that have been there before. We know what to expect and we kind of prepare ourselves and hopefully take it a step farther this year.”

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