Hopeful Rogers City Rooted in Tradition

June 1, 2018

By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half

ROGERS CITY – When the Rogers City bus rolled into town following a 2013 MHSAA Division 4 Softball Quarterfinal win in Traverse City, it made an impromptu stop.

“The bus went down to the Little League fields,” varsity coach Karl Grambau recalled. “They stopped the games, and all the Little Leaguers lined up and cheered the girls on. It made you tear up because you know all those kids out there on the Little League fields are hoping that one day they will be on that bus coming back with a championship.”

It’s a memory that’s still vivid and holds special meaning for Grambau, who has built one of the most successful programs in the state. The Hurons are 223-46 since 2012.

On Saturday, top-ranked Rogers City opens District play by hosting Johannesburg-Lewiston. Posen and Hillman square off in the other bracket. The Hurons, 25-4, are seeking their seventh consecutive District crown.

“We need to focus on our game and not worry about anyone else,” third baseman Hannah Fleming said. “If we do that, we’ll be OK. We know what we’re capable of, and it’s our job to show everybody else.”

Rogers City reached the Division 4 Semifinals in 2013, losing to Kalamazoo Christian 2-0, and then came back in 2014 and won the title in a rematch with Christian, 3-2 in the championship game.

Reigning champion Indian River Inland Lakes has knocked the Hurons out of the tournament the last three seasons, twice in the Quarterfinals.

“We have the ability to make it to the Final Four,” shortstop Kayla Rabeau said. “We have a strong team.”

Grambau knows it will not be easy. There are no guarantees. In 2005, after a Division 4 runner-up finish the previous year, Rogers City was ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll but lost in the Pre-District.

“I’ll never forget that,” Grambau said. “When I got home (after the Pre-District loss), the final rankings had just come out and there we were, No. 1 and already out (of the tournament).”

Grambau believes this team compares favorably to the 2014 championship squad. He returned seven position players off a 34-6 team, including four all-staters – Rabeau (hitting .500), Hannah Fleming (.429), pitcher Jayna Hance (.495) and first baseman Taylor Fleming (.542). They are the first four hitters in the lineup and lead the team in just about every statistical category. Hance, a junior who has verbally committed to Northwood University, is 11-3 on the mound. Sophomore Kyrsten Altman is 13-1.

“They are the glue,” Grambau said.

The four were also standouts on the school’s volleyball team, which reached the Class D Semifinals for a second consecutive year, and the basketball team, which won its first District title since 2001. The Hurons reached the Regional Finals before losing to Bellaire in overtime.

“It’s been overwhelming, really,” Hannah Fleming said. “You always hope for that type of success, but not a lot of teams get to experience this. I’m humbled and excited to have had this experience my senior year. We have girls who are really dedicated and who will do whatever it takes.”

“It’s been an amazing year,” Rabeau added. “Fun times.”

The Hurons are hoping the fun lasts a few more weeks. This is a tight-knit softball team that came up through the Little League ranks, followed by years of travel ball.

“We all play travel ball together,” Rabeau said. “We’re always together as a team. We’re dedicated to softball. That’s what makes us good.”

Classmates Rabeau and Hannah Fleming share much in common. The honor students played on varsity as freshmen in 2015. Hannah was at second that season because her older sister, Logan, now playing at Ferris State, was at third. Like now, she and Rabeau followed each other in the batting lineup.

“When Hannah hit her first home run (as a freshman), I hit my first right after it,” Rabeau said.

A year ago, the two shared the JoLen Flewelling Award, given to a junior who “shows great determination, dedication and sportsmanship.”

This season, Rabeau, who will play softball next at Mott Community College, was named the school’s Female Athlete of the Year.

“My mouth dropped,” she said after learning of the award. “When they were talking about me, I teared up. It’s been a dream of mine.”

Fleming, who will play softball at Alma College, was the North Star League’s Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She also received the Judy Paradise Award, given to a Rogers City senior athlete for outstanding sportsmanship and athletic ability. Fleming, a 3.88 student, is the senior class salutatorian.

“When the coaches explained how much (the award) means to them and the community, I felt truly blessed to represent Judy and Rogers City in that way,” she said.

There are only four seniors on the roster. In addition to Rabeau and Fleming, Jazmyn Saile is the designated player (.378 batting average) while Jordyn Schalk (.273) shares leftfield with junior Alissa Bowden (.316). Fleming and Altman (.290) rotate at second when not pitching. Junior Amanda Wirgau (.369) is the catcher while junior Linnea Hentkowski (.289) plays right. Freshmen Kristin Brege (.315) roams center, the same position her sister Cassie played on the 2014 title team. Kristin is the fifth Brege to play on varsity. Junior Brooke Daniels lends support at first.

“It’s a total team effort,” Grambau declared. “We get contributions from everybody.”

That was evident last Saturday in a tournament at Ogemaw Heights. Trailing Linden in the final inning, Rogers City had two on and two out when Catherine Hart (.342), Saile and Bowden delivered RBI singles to give the Hurons a 7-6 victory.

“A good way to finish the day in 90-degree heat,” Grambau said.

It was also a microcosm of how this team operates – one player picking up the next.

“Our girls battle, work hard and play with confidence,” Grambau said. “They always believe they will win. It’s a cohesive team. They support one another. And they liked to be challenged.”

Rogers City started softball in 1984 when Jerry Chrzan, Paradise and Grambau arranged a bottle drive to gather funding. Chrzan was the first coach, and he led the Hurons for 11 seasons. Charlie Fairbanks took over in 1995 and coached until 2002. He led the Hurons to a Division 3 runner-up finish in 2001. Grambau succeeded Fairbanks and in his second season guided the “Cardiac Kids” to another runner-up finish, in Division 4.

“We called that team the Cardiac Kids because we won almost all our (tournament) games by one run or in extra innings,” Grambau said.

That run started with a 1-0 Pre-District win over a good Posen squad and included a 3-2 comeback victory over Vandercook Lake in the Semifinals when Ashley Fleming belted a three-run homer in the sixth inning. The Hurons eventually lost to Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes in the Final.

In addition to six consecutive District crowns, Rogers City has captured four Regionals since 2012.

As for the keys to success, Grambau credits his dedicated players, volunteer assistants (Duane Pitts and Mike Bowden), a philosophy of keeping the sport fun for the girls and “tremendous” support from the community.

But at the core of the success is the Little League program.

“We’ve always had a solid Little League program, and that’s why we’ve had such a strong high school program,” Grambau acknowledged. “Without the Little League program, we would never have the program we have now.”

That’s why that stop at the Little League fields in 2013 was so meaningful to Grambau. It ranks as one of his two special moments in coaching.

The other, of course, is the state championship.

“These girls talk about that (title),” Grambau said. “They were there to see some of the games and the celebration (afterwards). They would like to experience that, too.”

He’ll take a battle-tested team into play Saturday. On Sunday, his seniors will graduate – making it an opportunity for a full weekend of celebrations.

“I’m happy to play at home,” he said. “We play well on our home field. We play with extra confidence. I’ll tell the girls it’s just another game of softball, but at the same time you know there’s a lot on the line.”

Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Rogers City shortstop Kayla Rabeau, right, and coach Karl Grambau share a joyful moment. (Below) Hannah Fleming rounds second base and heads for third after a throw gets through to the outfield. (Below) Taylor Fleming follows one of her shots this season. (Photos by Richard Lamb/Presque Isle County Advance.)

Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 4, 2023

Owosso’s Macy Irelan earned 11 entries in the MHSAA record book over her three-year varsity career that came to a close last spring, most notably with her 1,157 strikeouts despite the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.

Irelan’s career strikeouts were the second-most in the state since the pitching distance was lengthened three feet in 2011. She finished 31-7 last spring with a 1.43 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 229 2/3 innings in earning the Miss Softball Award for pitching.  

She also hit .551 with 21 doubles last season, and her 55 career doubles over 117 games and three seasons made that category career list. She’s continuing her career at Kent State.

See below for more recent additions to the softball record book:


Unionville-Sebewaing’s dominating run to the 2021 Division 4 championship was filled with seven record book-worthy highlights, including many near the top of all-time lists. In going 40-3, the Patriots tied their season record for wins for the second time. Their 502 runs scored ranked third all-time, with their 493 hits tied for ninth, their 114 doubles second, their 49 home runs also tied for ninth, their 431 RBI also second and their 503 strikeouts thrown ranking third. Senior Brynn Polega completed her career with 13 record book entries despite her junior season being canceled because of COVID-19; she added listings for 71 runs, 79 hits, a third-best 28 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBI, four perfect games pitching and 365 strikeouts, among others. Then-junior Laci Harris made lists with 77 runs, 83 hits, 22 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBI, while then-junior Macy Reinhardt was added for 78 runs and then-freshman Gabriella Crumm was added for 16 doubles. Polega, Harris and Reinhardt also posted entries for single-game accomplishments. Polega is playing at Northwood and Harris at Madonna.

Big Rapids set a school record for wins in 2021 in finishing 34-7, a run which included a number of accomplishments that reached the record book. The Cardinals scored 439 runs – tied for 12th on that list – and also as a team were added for 428 hits, 82 doubles and 363 RBI, which tied for 10th all-time. Marissa Warren made the individual hits list with 71, while Hanna Smith earned an entry with 20 doubles and Rylie Haist followed with 19. Josie Cornell was added with 40 walks drawn. Warren, Smith and Haist were added for single-game accomplishments as well, as was Madison Affer from a 2019 game. Haist, Smith and Cornell are seniors this school year, and Warren is a junior. Smith has signed with Ferris State.

A pair of Bad Axe standouts earned record book entries in 2021 with their work at the plate. Haley Newland made the single-season doubles list with 19, and Brooke Messing was added for seven RBI in a game that saw her hit a grand slam and three-run homer. Newland graduated last spring and Messing is a senior this school year.

Montrose then-freshman Lainey Cannon made two record book lists with her performance April 25 against Montrose. She hit three home runs to make the single-game list in that category, and also made the single-game RBI list with eight.

Capac then-sophomore Madalyn Roberson made the record book three times with her performance May 9 against Brown City. She hit two home runs in back-to-back at bats, both during the fifth inning, and also drove in six runs for the game.

Spring Lake standouts now fill the record book after the addition of 55 individual and 23 team entries dating back to the 2000 season. Among listings ranking highest in their respective categories were Madelyn Nelson’s 81 runs in 2018, which tied for seventh all-time; Nelson’s 250 career runs from 2015-18) that rank seventh and Lauren Hellman’s 249 career runs also from 2015-18 that rank eighth on that list; Nelson’s 84 hits in 2018 that are tied for 12th-most all-time and her 264 career hits that rank 11th, Leah Vaughan’s 26 doubles in 2019 that rank seventh, Evie Lorimer’s 16 triples in 2011 that are tied for eighth and her 37 career triples from 2010-12 that are ranked fourth, Vaughan’s 23 career times being hit by pitch from 2016-19 which rank second, and Lorimer’s 92 stolen bases in 2012 that rank second (with all 92 coming consecutively to tie for fifth on that list) and 183 career steals that rank 11th. As a team, Spring Lake in 2017 ranked seventh all-time with 501 hits over 42 games, fourth with 109 doubles and eighth with 34 triples. The 2018 team ranks 11th with 441 runs scored over 41 games, 10th with 497 hits and tied for ninth with 100 doubles. Valerie Alter, Linsey Paggeot, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Leah Anton, Ann Marie Galloway and Rachael Adams also earned individual entries. Nelson went on to play at Grand Valley State, Vaughan plays at Aquinas College, Lorimer played at Central Michigan, Alter played at Jacksonville University (Fla.), Poole plays at Cornerstone University and Mumby played at Lansing Community College. Core plays volleyball at Hope College.

Freeland’s offense earned five record book entries during the team’s 26-12 season in 2022, including for 412 runs scored, 442 hits, 78 doubles, 336 RBI and a .400 team batting average. Three individuals also earned entries – sophomore Addie Steffen for a 20-game hitting streak and seven RBI in a game, junior Evelynn Rybicki for six RBI in a game and freshman Brynn Jaime for getting hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.

Chloe Parker hit .604 last spring and made the records with 20 doubles over 33 games for Niles Brandywine. She’s a junior this school year.

A series of record book entries were added for past and present Zeeland West standouts. Carly Sleeman was added for 73 runs, 75 hits, 27 doubles and 12 home runs in 2021 as a sophomore, while Lily Brower was added for 72 runs, 17 triples and 11 homers, plus 38 doubles and 29 triples over a four-year varsity career. Sleeman’s 27 doubles are tied for fifth-most in one season, and Brower’s 17 triples are tied for fourth on that list. Haley Hoogenraad was added for 70 hits and 17 doubles as a junior in 2015, 19 doubles as a senior, and 49 doubles and 24 triples over her four-year career from 2013-16. Kenzie Siersma was added for 17 doubles in 2017 and 54 over her career from 2016-19, while Courtney Sleeman made the season home runs list with 15 in 2015 and Sarah VanValkenburg made the career RBI list with 152 from 2014-17. Emily Brands was added for hitting consecutive home runs in the same inning, May 7 against Reese; she graduated this spring. Hoogenraad went on to play at University of Michigan, Courtney Sleeman played at Western Michigan, Siersma plays at West Virginia Tech, Brower played last season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Carly Sleeman has signed with Central Michigan.

PHOTO Owosso’s Macy Irelan unloads a pitch during the 2021 Division 2 Final.