ROGERS CITY, Mich. - The Rapid River Rockets were as prepared as could be for the Rogers City Hurons at Saturday's MHSAA Division 4 softball regional. In manager George Kanyuh's estimation, they just got beat by a better team.
Rogers City picked up its first hometown regional championship since 2004 and its second in a row when it beat Rapid River 3-2 in the semifinal, before routing Norway 16-4 in the final.
"Last time we won a regional title in front of a hometown crowd, we went to the championship game. We're hoping we can repeat that," Rogers City coach Karl Grambau said.
Eric Benac |?Alpena Daily News
Rapid River’s Savannah Stenlund steps to the plate during Saturday’s regional semifinal against Rogers City, in Rogers CIty.
The matchup between the Hurons and the Rockets couldn't have been closer.
The Hurons scored first when lead off hitter Logan Fleming hit a solo homer in her first at bat to give Rogers City a 1-0 lead.
After that, most of the game was an extended pitchers dual between Savannah Stenlund and Nikki Radke. The Rockets picked up one hit in three innings, while the Hurons had four.
"After our district game, I drove down to and watched Rogers City in their district the following day. I scouted their pitching and had a detailed report for Savannah," said Kanyuh. "She had the hitters figured out, she had a battle plan and she followed it. We had our fielders positioned and they played great. Their first batter hit a home run and we were down 1-0 right from the get-go, but we never wavered.
"This was just a powerhouse ballclub we faced. On paper we were out-talented, out-gunned. They're laden with 11th and 12th graders, they have a jayvee program."
To make things more difficult on the Rockets, they were facing the Hurons on their home field. Kanyuh said he tried to prepare his team as best he could for that.
"We knew they allow parking around the field, and it was packed. We had to beat the crowd. There were hundreds of vehicles all around the field, screaming and honking. Talk about pressure," he said.
"I showed the team the movie 'For the Love of the Game', Shut out the crowd, it can only be you and the batter."
Rapid River nearly scored in the first inning when a potential Stenlund home run was robbed by Hurons left fielder Autumn Idalski.
Things got interesting in the fourth inning when Kendyl Miller banged a two-run homer to take a 2-1 lead. The Hurons tied it up in the fifth off a Courtney Streich RBI double.
Fleming led her team at the bat with two walks, a double and a home run. Streich had a double, a single and two RBIs. Alexa Quaine had two singles and a double.
"Logan Fleming came up in the sixth and scored from first base on a single. She must be the fastest kid in America," said Kanyuh.
Trouble was brewing for the Hurons in the top of the seventh when pitcher Radke gave up a single and hit two straight players to load the bases. That's when reliever Alexa Quaine stepped to the mound.
In spite of inheriting a sticky situation, Quaine calmly went 1-2-3, including two Ks to save the inning.
"I just relax and tell myself that my teammates got me. We have a solid defense, so I thought if I moved it around and they hit it, my team's got my back," Quaine said. "Words can't even describe how I feel right now."
The turn of events proved to be the Rockets' downfall.
"We loaded the bases with no outs and they brought in that relief pitcher. For whatever reason the softball gods chose not to smile on us," said Kanyuh. "That was crushing. When you know you've got them and we just didn't get that knockout punch. A single would have scored a couple runs for us and we couldn't get it."
Streich drove in Cassie Brege in the bottom of the seventh to give Rogers City the win.
"You can't leave three girls on base like that in such a tight game, especially against a team like Rogers City," Rapid River coach George Kanyuh said.
Radke pitched six innings for the win. She gave up three hits, one earned run and struck out three. Stenlund pitched the whole game for the loss, giving up nine hits, three runs and striking out eight.
"Savannah left everything on the mound. We had to carry her off the field in tears. When that run scored, she just collapsed on the foul line, it all hit her. All those years and now it's over. It was an emotional moment for her and the rest of the team," said Kanyuh. "
Norway breezed past Inland Lakes in a 15-3 five inning mercy in the second game to come up against Rogers City in the final.
The Hurons picked up three runs off three hits in the first inning. However, Norway answered back in the first after Rachel Connery doubled to narrow the Hurons spread to 3-1.
However, a five run inning by the Hurons in the game blew the game wide open with an 8-1 lead.
It only had two hits in the inning, but a bad bounce off the Rapid River centerfielder's glove popped a Quaine shot over the fence for a three-run homer.
This lead narrowed to 8-4 in the third when Hulce hit the game's second three-run homer, but Fleming hit the game's third and last three-run homer in the fifth to push Rogers City an 11-4 spread.
"It's always so amazing to be part of such a good team where everybody is behind you no matter what hits you get. I was very fortunate to be able to help the team out today," Fleming said.
Ashley Zanon pitched six innings for Norway in the loss. She struck out four while giving up four hits and four walks. Quaine pitched the full game, giving up eight hits one walk while striking out two.
The Hurons put the nail in the coffin in the seventh when it picked up five runs off six hits and one error to take the final 16-4 lead.
"There were just a few small mistakes which got to us. We'd have two outs and they'd score a few runs. Or the ball bounces off a glove and over the fence," Norway coach Scott Connery said. "You could feel their energy draining every time something like that happened."
Rogers City will face Central Lake at Traverse City West on Tuesday.
"We're excited to be back in the quarter finals. We took care of business at home and we're excited to be going back to Traverse City and we're going to give our best over there," Grambau said.
For Kanyuh and the Rockets, the defeat was especially hard to take.
"It's one of the toughest experiences I've had coaching because we had them," he said. "I couldn't be prouder of the girls and how they stepped up. It was a dogfight from the first batter who hit a home run to the last batter. Seven innings, 21 outs of absolute dogfight, tooth and nail."