TRAVERSE CITY- The chant seemed to grow louder and louder as the elated members of the Rogers City softball team celebrated after winning a Division 4 quarterfinal on Tuesday,
"BAT-TLE CREEK! BAT-TLE CREEK! BAT-TLE CREEK!"
The Hurons are headed back down south to Bailey Park for the first time since 2004 and two wins sit between them and a state championship.
Northeast Michigan has been well represented in Battle Creek, particularly in the state finals, in last dozen years. Rogers City made it there in 2004, Alpena made it there in 2008 and Onaway made it there in 2010.
But now after nine years, it's Rogers City's time to shine again.
The last time Rogers City was in Battle Creek, a team known as the Cardiac Kids, which featured players like Ashley Fleming, C.J. Calabrese and Jessica Konieczny, took the Hurons all the way to a runner-up finish, after a series of close wins and come-from-behind victories including a 3-2 win against Vandercook Lake on a walk-off three-run home run.
If Tuesday is any indication, this year's team has the chance to equal and maybe even surpass what the Cardiac Kids accomplished.
This team entered the season with high expectations and hasn't backed down from them, winning games with late-inning rallies, styming hitters with an experienced trio of pitchers and backing up those pitchers with a collective clout that's flat out overwhelmed opponents at times.
"I think that this team is more solid hitting 1-9. These kids have the same attitude as the Cardiac Kids: never say die, keep on going, never give up, keep on going and that's what we do," Rogers City coach Karl Grambau said. "But I think 1-9 this is the best hitting team I've ever seen."
All but one Huron starter had a hit against Frankfort and two pinch hitters-Brenna Hincka and Holle Dittmar- each had a hit in the fourth inning.
"After we saw the pitching was a little bit slower, once we waited on it, we sat on those pitches and we had a real good two innings (the first and second innings)," senior Brooklyn Idalski said.
It's no coincidence that the Hurons hit the ball so well. Most of their practices throughout the season are spent perfecting hitting and technique with volunteer assistant coach Gary Bisson and it's done wonders.
Rogers City was also helped this season with some new equipment from Muhl Tech that Grambau was drawn to while attending a coaching clinic. The equipment comes with promises of increasing a team's extra base hits and home runs.
With Sarah Meredith's two-run shot in the third inning on Tuesday, Rogers City is up to 26 for the season and the Hurons also added four doubles to their numerous extra-base hit count for the year.
"When practice starts, we hit 45 minutes a day and hit the weight room 45 minutes a day. We don't do anything else in practice," Grambau said. "It's the kids, they've got to buy into it and they like working with the equipment we've got, they like hitting the weight room, they like working on their own and our practices are 90 percent hitting."
It's been nine long years since Rogers City advanced this far into a season. In that time the Hurons watched Onaway take five straight district titles and saw teams like Rapid River storm their way through regionals several times.
But this season is different.
Rogers City broke Onaway's hold on the district title last season and got by the Cardinals again on the way to a second straight district title this year. The Hurons later vanquished Rapid River in the regional final.
The Hurons will face a tough test from top-ranked Kalamazoo Christian on Friday, but they haven't backed down from a challenge yet this season. In its playoff run, Rogers City has already collected three wins over top-10 teams-Posen, Onaway and Rapid River.
Now they're headed back to Battle Creek to see if they can't make an already special season more magical with all eyes fixed on them.
"It's a great way to represent our school and show people how much talent is really out there in Division 4," Meredith said.
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.