TRAVERSE CITY The post-game celebration or lack of celebration told a lot about the mindset of the Rapid River softball team here Tuesday.
The third-ranked Rockets cruised past Bellaire 10-0 in the Division 4 quarterfinals to earn their second-straight berth in the Final Four at Battle Creek and their third in four years. There were some smiles and high-fives after the decisive victory over Bellaire but nothing exuberant. The feeling among the players and coaches was that this is just one more step along the way.
"We came into today thinking, 'We're here to do a job and let's do it,'" senior Heather Sanderson said after dominating the Eagles from the circle. "It was the next thing that needed to be done to get us to Battle Creek. It feels pretty good and it's exciting but we know there's still more we need to do to get where we want to be."
Members of the Rapid River Rockets react after their 10-0 victory over Bellaire in a Division 4 quarterfinal game at Traverse City West High School. Rapid River advances to Bailey Park in Battle Creek to play Dansville Friday at 6 p.m. on Diamond 1.
(Photo courtesy of Mike Dunn)
Rapid River Manager George Kanyuh acknowledged that the team's mission all year has been to return to Battle Creek and reach the state finals.
The past two times the Rockets have played at Bailey Park in 2009 and 2011, they've lost to Unionville Sebewaing in the semifinals. This time around the Rockets (35-5) take on Dansville, which defeated Allen Park Inter-City Baptist 9-3 in its quarterfinal Tuesday. The semifinal clash is set for 6 p.m. Friday on Diamond 1. In the other semifinal, Petersburg-Summerfield plays Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart.
"Our focus all year has been playing one more game than last year," Kanyuh said. "The girls brought their lunch buckets with them and went to work today. They were on a mission to get back to Battle Creek."
Rapid River took a workmanlike approach to the game with Bellaire from the outset.
Sanderson was locked in from the opening pitch, pounding the strike zone with some serious smoke. She finished with nine strikeouts and two walks and permitted the Eagles just three hits along the way. No Bellaire runner made it past second base.
"I was feeling pretty good," Sanderson said. "I could tell pretty much from the start that I was on. Everything flushed out right away. Once we got the lead (in the third inning) it took some of the pressure off. We knew we were up and we could just keep playing our game."
The game was scoreless through two innings. In the top of the third, the Rockets scored four runs thanks to some timely hits and some untimely errors by the Eagles.
First baseman Neena Brockway and third baseman Savannah Stenlund both poked two-run doubles in the frame. Shortstop Ashleigh Monticello and Sanderson both reached on errors and both scored. Leadoff hitter Ashley Hough also singled and scored.
"It was nice to get up a few runs in a big game like this," Kanyuh said. "The way Heather was pitching, it gave everybody a boost a confidence at that point."
The Rockets added another run in the fourth and five more in the seventh to finish with a flourish.
Monticello struck the big blow in the seventh, a two-run single, and Sanderson also knocked in a run on a fielder's choice. Brockway drilled her third hit of the game during the late uprising.
Sanderson, who had only faced two above the minimum number of hitters going into the final inning, struck out Bellaire catcher Katie Thornton for her ninth punch out to start off the seventh before allowing a single to her counterpart, Eagle pitcher Mackenzie Verellen. Sanderson coaxed grounders from the next two hitters to put this one in the books and reserve another berth at Bailey Park.
"We won't be playing USA (Unionville Sebewaing) this year but it doesn't matter," Sanderson said. "We're going down there knowing the job isn't done yet.
"This is my senior year and it makes it a little more special knowing it's the last time," she added. "I'm happy to be going back down there with all my teammates. I love these girls. We want to celebrate together two more times."
Kanyuh said his emphasis at Bailey Park will be on the mental part of the game.
"The girls have the athleticism and the physical part down; the main thing now is keeping mentally focused," he said. "If we play loose and confident, the other stuff will all come together.
"We've set a goal to play two games down there and after today we have the opportunity. Now we have to make the most of it."
Second baseman Averi Kanyuh singled and scored a run. Hough walked twice to go with her hit and scored three times. Stenlund joined Brockway with multiple hits, stroking a single and double. She also had a sacrifice bunt.