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Rockets grounded in reality as regional tourney looms

June 8, 2012
By Dennis Grall - Sports Editor ( , Daily Press

RAPID RIVER - The Rapid River Rockets are brimming with confidence and desire, but they could also be stars in a reality show because they have a solid grasp of the real world in high school softball.

The third-ranked Rockets (32-5) face honorable mention Posen at 10 a.m. Saturday in a Division 4 regional at Sault Ste. Marie. No. 8 Rogers City (34-5) meets unranked Rudyard at noon, with the winners playing for the title at 2 p.m.

"There is no favorite between us, Posen or Rogers City," said Rapid River manager George Kanyuh. "I don't want to denounce Rudyard, but we (three) have been ranked all year."

Article Photos

Dennis Grall | Daily Press
Rapid River manager George Kanyuh fiddles with a softball during a break in a game at Gladstone last month. The Rockets face Posen in a Division 4 regional at 10 a.m. Saturday in Sault Ste. Marie.

Rogers City, which recently swept a doubleheader from Rudyard to win the Straits Area Conference title, ended an eight-year district title drought by upsetting No. 2 Onaway 4-3. Posen beat Hillman 1-0 for its first district title since 2006.

Rapid River has won 13 straight games, including five consecutive shutouts. The Rockets outscored three district teams 47-0.

"We didn't look at the district as any kind of a building block," said Kanyuh. "That all took place during the season, particularly the last half of the season."

He was talking about taking second in tournaments in Ann Arbor and Gladstone (highly ranked larger schools) and sweeping D-1 Marquette last week 6-0 and 2-0.

"Those were the sounding boards where we were playing teams that pushed us out of our comfort zone," Kanyuh said before practice Thursday. "We knew a couple of our district games might not be the most challenging. It's what we've done throughout the year when we played some really good competition."

Those games afforded the Rockets a chance to play at a higher intensity level and meeting bigger challenges, he said. "Those are the games where the blood pressure is a lighter higher, the heart is beating faster, the adrenalin is going faster, and we were able to prevail."

After sweeping Marquette last week, Kanyuh said "the girls right now are where we wanted them mentally. They are focused. They know they are a good team. If they play their game, they are not afraid of anybody."

The experience of playing in that type of game is plentiful and easily covers anything gained from blowing past a weak district field.

"The kids know if they are in any kind of a bind, they can get out of it," he said of facing the stiffer competition.

Practices this week have been productive, but Kanyuh said there is no doubt the focus is on Saturday.

"Our girls are like a herd of thirsty horses. They are ready to stampede to the first watering hole they can find," he said. "Enough practice, enough drills. Let's just get to the field."

Senior Heather Sanderson will pitch the opener, with junior Neena Brockway ready in reserve. Sanderson will pitch for Wisconsin-Green Bay next season.

"Sanderson has come on strong in the second half. That is how we were programming it," said Kanyuh, who said it was difficult to put his finger on a key to her prowess. "She is peaking out with her speed, she is peaking out with location, her off-speed pitches are really looking good."

The offense led by Sanderson, Brockway, Ashleigh Monticello and Ashley Hough also appears ready after facing Sanderson and Brockway in practice all week.

"If you can hit our girls, I think you can hit any other girls," said Kanyuh. "It is just a confidence thing, not bragging. The kids know they can, now they've got to go prove it."

Posen will put Ashley Meyers in the circle Saturday. She threw five hitless innings as the Vikings drilled Johannesburg-Lewiston 12-0, then allowed two hits to beat Hillman 3-0 in the district.

Kanyuh, the district representative, speaks frequently to Posen manager and regional representative Glen Budnick, who has followed the Rockets closely. "He told me he hasn't missed a Daily Press article this year," Kanyuh said.

Rogers City advanced by scoring three unearned runs with two out in the top of the seventh on Linnea Brege's blooper to shallow right field. Melissa Pomranke, who allowed two hits, had been a backup to Onaway's Emily Estep the previous three years before transferring. Estep, who issued two walks to fill the bases in the seventh, allowed four hits.

Estep and Onaway beat Rapid River in a 2010 regional semifinal. Last year the Rockets reached the semifinals for the second time after beating Onaway and Hillman in the regional.



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