Rogers City Swinging for Semifinal Return

April 12, 2019

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

ROGERS CITY — The well of softball talent never seems to run dry at Rogers City High School.

So, even though the Hurons lost five key players from last year’s team that went 32-6 and reached the Division 4 Semifinals, they entered the 2019 season with the same high expectations and a No. 3 ranking in the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association Division 4 poll.

“I think we’re going to be OK again,” said Rogers City head coach Karl Grambau. “We lost an awful lot. We lost some pretty good players. Some of them are playing in college now, but there’s enough back and we added some good, young kids. We’re pretty excited with what we’ve got coming back.”

The caliber of players the Hurons have to replace is high and might wreck many programs. Among those who are gone is starting shortstop Kayla Rabeau, a four-year standout who was Division 4 Miss Softball. They also have to fill big shoes at third base and second base — Hannah Fleming and Jayna Hance earned all-state and all-state honorable mention, respectively, while designated player Jazmyn Saile and centerfielder Kristin Brege were both all-region selections.

To make up for those losses, Rogers City is leaning heavily on its top returning players — a core that supplied major contributions for the Hurons over the past three years. Junior pitcher Kyrsten Altman and senior Taylor Fleming, who is moving from first base to shortstop, both received all-state honorable mention in 2018, while catcher Amanda Wirgau, another fourth-year veteran, and outfielders Linnea Hentkowski and Alissa Bowden also are returning starters. Additionally, the Hurons have players like senior third baseman Cathryn Hart, sophomore first baseman Jeffra Dittmar and sophomore second baseman Karissa Rabeau ready to step in and show what they can do.

“Every year I’ve been on varsity we’ve lost some key players,” said Taylor Fleming. “We’ve always been capable of filling those positions that we’ve lost. I think we’re more than capable of doing it again this year. As long as I can remember, Rogers City softball has always been a good program and they’ve always made it pretty far (in the postseason).”

Indeed, the Hurons can put their accolades up against nearly any program across the state. Since 2012 they’ve gone 230-48, the highlight being winning the Division 4 title in 2014. They’ve also reached the Semifinals twice, won three consecutive Regionals and seven straight Districts. There also were Finals runner-up finishes in 2004 and 2001.

“I think we’ve built up a pretty good tradition all the way through, especially since 2012,” said Grambau, who took over for Charlie Fairbanks in 2003. “We want to keep it going. We’ve talked about how we have a target on our back. We also know it takes a lot of hard work to keep climbing and it’s easy to slide back, and we don’t want to do that. We want to keep going in a positive direction.”

After getting a taste of playing in a Semifinal last year, the Hurons are hungry to get another opportunity that deep into the postseason. 

“A lot of us really, really want to get back (to East Lansing),” said Altman, who had a record of 17-3 last year and struck out 118 batters in 111 innings using a wicked rise ball as her go-to pitch. “It’s such an amazing experience to get to play there, and we hope to do that again and maybe get the win.

“The team has very high standards. The past couple of years we’ve always gotten super far in the playoff round, and we keep pushing and pushing to get farther and farther. We just have to keep working hard.”

The Hurons want to remove the bitter taste left from last year’s 2-0 loss to Coleman in the Semifinals. Rogers City’s bats couldn’t string together hits, and the quest for a second championship in four years was dashed. 

It’s been a rare occasion when the Hurons have had trouble generating offense. Rogers City has become notable for its hefty home run totals. The Hurons have clubbed at least 30 homers each year since 2013, including a whopping 48 during the 2014 championship season. In the District Semifinal against Johannesburg-Lewiston last year, they belted nine home runs.

“I’m not going to say we’re going to hit 30-some this year, but I think we’ll hit our fair share again,” said Grambau. “We’ve got some good kids, and we work on the power hitting a lot. What we’ve done has worked. Knock on wood, we can keep it going. We’ve got to stay healthy. The kids work hard, and they buy into the system. I’m really happy with the results.”

Grambau has coached a number of sports — boys and girls basketball, track & field and cross country among them — but his tenure as the Hurons’ softball coach has stretched into its 17th season.

“It’s just been a lot of fun,” said Grambau. “It was a strong program when I started. It just happened that I could keep it going. We’ve had great volunteer help over the years. It’s just something I enjoy doing. I’ve had a chance to coach a lot of great kids and meet a lot of great people.”

Grambau has gone 435-157 as the Hurons’ head coach, a record made even more impressive by the fact that the Hurons play an extremely challenging schedule every year. Rogers City will face many of the teams listed as well in the preseason rankings and isn’t afraid to take on teams in any division. 

“We’ve always tried to play a really tough schedule, and it’s really helped us come postseason time,” said Grambau. “We like to play good competition.”

That begins with a season-opening tournament at Farmington Hills Mercy, along with tournaments at Holton and Boyne City that will feature quality competition. A rematch with Division 4 runner-up Coleman also is on the schedule. The purpose is to be well-prepared by the time the postseason starts, when elimination is only one game away.

“Anything can happen on any day,” said Grambau. “We just have to try and get ready for the next day. One day at a time, and one pitch at a time. That’s what we tell the girls. Things will work out as long as we believe in what we’re doing. 

“Our No. 1 goal is to have fun. We’re going to do our best to keep it going this year.”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at sports@antrimreview.net 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) Pitcher Kyrsten Altman and first baseman Taylor Fleming (20) get ready to start an inning during last season’s Division 4 Semifinal against Coleman. (Middle) Rogers City catcher Amanda Wirgau prepares to apply the tag and prevent a run during the eventual 2-0 defeat at Secchia Stadium. 

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:

Softball

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.