ESCANABA - A pair of prep softball teams, somewhat familiar with each other, will take the field in Saturday's MHSAA Division 4 regional opener at Rogers City.
Rapid River (19-14) faces the host Hurons (29-6) at 10 a.m., followed by a contest between Norway and Indian River Inland Lakes at noon. The title game is set for 2 p.m.
The two schools met in last year's regional final in Sault Ste. Marie, with Rogers City winning that contest 6-3.
"They (Hurons) have six or seven kids back from last year's team," said Rockets' manager George Kanyuh. "Although, both are different teams from last year. We lost some kids from last season and they graduated a few, too. I remember we had one bad inning and they strung together a few hits. Their first 4-5 batters are good hitters. Obviously, we need to throw the ball at a point in the strike zone to avoid their power."
Third-ranked Rogers City mercied Hillman 10-0 in its district opener, then beat fourth-ranked Posen 10-2 in the title game.
The Hurons belted two home runs against Posen, running their season total to 44.
They were ranked No. 1 in the state until May 1 when they dropped 2-1 and 3-2 decisions to Posen. The Hurons, who dropped to fourth after that doubleheader, have since moved up a spot.
Key returners for Rogers City are two-time all-state junior third-baseman and leadoff hitter Logan Fleming, its leading home run hitter and senior centerfielder Cassie Brege and sophomore catcher Sarah Meredith. The trio was part of last year's team which dropped a 2-0 state semifinal decision to eventual state champion Kalamazoo Christian.
"We're approaching this like any other game," said Kanyuh. "Good pitching, defense, hitting and baserunning are the four things we need to get done, and I have no doubt we will. The girls are looking forward to the challenge. This is a great group of girls. They've had enough practice. They just want to get out and play."
The Rockets earned their fifth straight district title by eliminating Superior Central 5-2 at Pickford. They needed just three innings to crush the host Panthers in the opener, then blanked Rudyard 11-0 in five prior to facing the Cougars.
"As the season progressed, I think the whole team came together in all phases," said Kanyuh. "There's kind of a method to our madness in coming together and peaking at the right time. I would like to think playing teams like Escanaba and Gladstone (during the regular season) developed some character."
Rapid River plans to send its senior ace Savannah Stenlund to the mound against the Hurons.
"Savannah had a good year and got better the last third of the season," said Kanyuh. "She has settled in on the mound and done a remarkable job. She has gone up against some very good teams. I would like to think that developed some tough skin on her."
Stenlund is also among the Rockets' leading hitters. Also playing major offensive roles are juniors Aslyn Brockway and Kendyl Miller, sophmomore Hannah Kanyuh and freshmen Rhiley Hubert and Erica Rubick.
"Rhiley has done a good job getting on base," said manager Kanyuh. "Aslyn has turned the corner. She's putting the bat on the ball and Hannah, Savannah and Kendyl have been solid all year. Erica has been a pleasant surprise at the plate this year.
"We've also been playing some of our best defensive ball the past several weeks. We're playing real tight defense."