RAPID RIVER - Good pitching supported by strong defense and solid hitting are again key components as the Rapid River Rockets are building the road toward another postseason softball run.
The Rockets were in prime form here Wednesday, sweeping past a primary Division 4 challenger with 8-1 and 10-0 conquests of Superior Central. The Rockets (9-0) have beaten the Cougars three times this season, using three different pitchers.
"I'm happy with the performance of the team so far but we've got a long way to go," said manager George Kanyuh, whose team reached the state semifinals last year. "These kids are working hard, they are busting their butts. But there is always room for improvement."
Ashley Hough of Rapid River slides home as the ball bounces away from Superior Central catcher Mikayla Barrows Wednesday at Rapid River. First baseman Vanessa Freberg backs up the play. For more photos, visit cu.dailypress.net. (Daily Press photo by Dennis Grall)
Sam Peterson of Rapid River is all smiles as she returns to the bench after swatting her first career home run Wednesday. (Daily Press photo by Dennis Grall)
Rapid River center fielder Shannon Wolf reaches for the ball in the right-center gap Wednesday to rob Superior Central of a third inning hit at Rapid River. (Daily Press photo by Dennis Grall)
Other than failing to produce a run with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth, it was hard to find anything negative.
Kanyuh, stressing he was not trying to sound cocky, said "we've given them (SC) something to think about."
Superior Central manager Martha Verbrigghe basically agreed, but also noted "we play better against them than a lot of teams. We always know Rapid River is the toughest one we face."
Senior Ashleigh Monticello ended the sweep by pounding a two-run home run to center field in the fifth inning. The nightcap began with a solo homer to almost the same spot by senior Sam Peterson, which was the first round-tripper of her career.
"It felt amazing," said Peterson. "I could tell with the swing and the way it sounded that it was gone. Our coaches tell us if you hit it on the sweet spot, you will know. It sounded good, it felt good."
Peterson said the Rockets "have been playing very well as a team."
Pitchers Neena Brockway and Heather Sanderson throttled the Cougars, with SC getting its lone run on a single by Mackenzie Shega-Fox off Brockway in the first inning. Teslyn Tyner was 3-for-3 in the opener and losing pitcher Lindsey Richmond added two hits as the Cougars had eight hits. Brockway fanned five.
Sanderson allowed one hit in the finale, a single by Mikayla Barrows, and whiffed three.
Brockway had a double and triple in the opener, with her two-run double highlighting a four-run third inning. The Rockets also scored twice in the second and fifth innings.
Monticello and Shannon Wolf had two hits for the Rockets.
In the nightcap, Monticello drove in four runs with three hits and Sanderson was 3-for-3 with two RBIs. They scored three times in the third, once in the fourth before loading the bases and ended the game with five runs in the fifth.
Brooke Pasanen lost the nightcap, with Vanessa Freberg pitching the final two innings. Pasanen, who was the catcher in the opener, was cleared to play Monday after a bout with mononucleosis.
"That was asking a lot of her," admitted Verbrigghe. "She needs energy."
Verbrigghe said once Pasanen gets healthy, SC's pitching will improve as will the overall team performance. "I see her getting stronger and we have to do something about our base running," said Verbrigghe.
Kanyuh was disappointed when the Rockets failed to break the game open in the fourth inning, then laughed and said coaches always look for negative things to give players something to work on.
"We come to expect the girls to hit in those situations, and for the most part they have come through," he said. "But you can't expect it every time. That is not fair."
After the fifth inning eruption on the heels of the previous failure, Kanyuh said "that is sweet stuff. We left the bases loaded, but looking at the big scheme of things, now who cares about the fourth inning?"
The Rockets, ranked third in this week's Division 4 poll, play in the Boyne City Invitational Saturday. Superior Central hosts Manistique Tuesday.