Retooling after D4 semifinal run, Rogers City goes toe-to-toe with big programs at Mercy’s Falvo Memorial tournament
FARMINGTON — Rogers City coach Karl Grambau needs a road map.
No, not to figure out the 250-plus mile road trip from the Hurons’ high school campus, which sits less than a half mile up Huron Avenue from U.S.-23, down to Farmington’s Founders Park for Saturday’s Jack Falvo Memorial tournament, hosted by Farmington Hills Mercy.
That’s relatively straightforward, all things considered.
No, what MapQuest can’t help the veteran Hurons coach with is figuring out the road map to replacing three quarters of his infield, three college-bound players who hit 1-2-3 in the Hurons’ order the last three seasons, among the five players who moved on after helping lead the Hurons to the Division 4 semifinals.
How quickly (and completely) he can do that will determine whether or not Rogers City — ranked No. 3 in the preseason coaches’ poll — can make its fourth final four trip since 2013.
Judging by the results of last week’s first time on the field — a nine-inning scrimmage with always-powerful neighbor Alpena — and Saturday’s four games at the Mercy tournament, where the Hurons went toe-to-toe against Division 1-2 competition, the Hurons might not be that far off course.
“I’m really happy with how we came out. We went 2-2 on the day. It’s good competition. Nice to be outside, with no snow. …. We got a lot of reps. Teams hit the ball, and we hit the ball pretty well. All in all, I think it was a good day for the Hurons. I think we’re pretty satisfied with the results. It gives us things we know we need to work on. We got a lot of action in different positions — we’re trying a lot of things out,” Grambau said of the process, aimed to fill those big holes. “Oh, for sure, that’s why we had different kids play second base, different kids play outfield, different kids contributing at the plate.”
There’s no question that there are holes to fill, though.
All-state third baseman Hannah Fleming, a four-year starter, followed the Rogers City pipeline to Alma College, while Division 4 Miss Softball, four-year starting shortstop Kayla Rabeau, is at Mott Community College. Honorable mention all-state second baseman Jayna Hance, the Hurons’ leadoff hitter for three seasons, moved to Grant, where she’ll play her senior year, before heading to Northwood University.
All-region designated player Jazmyn Saile graduated, while all-region sophomore centerfielder Kristin Brege decided to concentrate solely on volleyball, leaving five starting positions to fill.
Grambau does have some experienced players to mold the others around, though.
Senior Taylor Fleming, an all-stater in volleyball and basketball who will play the former for Lake Superior State, earned all-state honors in center field her first two seasons, before moving to first base last year. She’ll play shortstop this year, replacing Rabeau. Kyrsten Altman was an honorable mention all-state pitcher last year (17-3, 2.13 ERA, 118 K), while Amanda Wirgau is a four-year varsity player behind the plate. Two seniors — Linnea Hentkowski and Alissa Bowden — return in the outfield.
That leaves first (sophomore Jeffra Dittmar), second (sophomore Karissa Rabeau), third (senior Cathryn Hart) and right field (freshman Reagan Comerford) to fill.
The remodeled lineup held its own Saturday, as the Hurons beat Holly 15-0, but lost to Carleton Airport 7-1 in pool play. In the first round of bracket play, the Hurons had a chance to beat New Baltimore Anchor Bay in regulation, after tying it up 3-3 in the fifth, and Anchor Bay scored five times in the seventh, and held the Hurons to four to win it, 8-7.
“We usually hit the ball pretty hard. The one game, when Anchor Bay hit all the home runs, that’s usually us hitting the home runs,” Grambau said. “Anchor Bay hit three in a row, hit the ball hard, then we battled back, came up a little short. That one we probably should’ve won in regulation, but we couldn’t get that big run across.”
Rogers City rapped out four triples in the fifth-place game, beating Livonia Stevenson 11-8. Wirgau drove in three, while Bowden had two RBI and two triples, the first turning into a Little League home run on a fielding error by the Spartans. A four-run fourth inning helped Rogers City break it open, giving the Hurons a big enough cushion to hold off a three-run rally by Stevenson — paced by a two-run triple by Autumn Reed — in the fifth to win it.
Saturday’s tournament won’t be the only tough test the Hurons face before North Star League play. They’re headed to Holton next week to take on D4 powers Holton, Onaway, Frankfort, Beal City and Three Rivers River Valley, then face Unionville-Sebewaing and Coleman a week later.
“We’re going to be battle-tested when it comes time for the tournament. We always say we just want to have a good day that day, and that’s going to be the key,” Grambau said. “I think if we take care of business, we have a chance to advance like we did last year. It’s going to be a tough road, because we’re going to have a target on our backs.”
Another deep run wouldn’t be all that out of the ordinary: The Hurons have gone 230-48 since 2012, winning seven straight district titles and three consecutive regionals.
Rogers City won the D4 championship after losing in the semis the year prior, and were runner-up in 2004. Grambau’s predecessor, Charlie Fairbanks, led Rogers City to a runner-up finish in D3 in 2001.
Walled Lake Northern won the tournament, beating Trenton (4-1), Anchor Bay (10-9), Airport (10-3) and Northville (12-0) to remain unbeaten (6-0) on the season.
Northville tied 1-1 with Linden (but got first place on a hits tiebreaker), and beat Ann Arbor Skyline 5-1 to win its pool, then beat Mercy in pool play to advance to the championship game.
Mercy beat Livonia Stevenson, 9-5, and Fowlerville, 15-6, in pool play, then beat Carleton-Airport in the third-place game. Airport beat Holly 19-1 and Rogers City to win its pool.