ESCANABA Tomorrow, the Escanaba Eskymos will head to Cadillac to face off against a somewhat familiar opponent - the Cadillac Vikings.
The two teams met in the regional finals just last year, when Esky cruised past them 10-1. The Vikings have been on a roll this season, and they are looking for a different outcome this time around.
"We are looking forward to it," said Vikings' first-year coach Dan Dehlquist. "We'd like to come back and actually show them we can play, and move on to the regional title. They have a great program, so it should be exciting."
Cadillac (30-3) just claimed their ninth straight district title by dispatching Ogemaw Heights 4-1 and Gladwin 6-1. Their ace on the mound, Katlyn Agren, had 22 strikeouts on the day, and looks to continue throwing heat well into the postseason.
"We stepped up our play there," Dehlquist said. "We played against Ogemaw the Thursday before, and they beat us 4-1. We had a little revenge and the girls came to play. We got a chance to come back and show them some Cadillac ball."
Dehlquist said that the senior leadership on his squad is a huge contributor to their success. Their ace and shortstop Mary Emington are both four-year players, and he said that leadership really came through in district play.
"The enthusiasm from them bled into the younger players," he said. "They're just so enthusiastic about the game and I think that really took the other teams out of it. The leadership is a huge part of our winning."
Agren will get the start on the mound Saturday against Escanaba. She has thrown four no-hitters this season, and nearly had a fifth in the district game against Ogemaw, making it all the way to the final inning.
Emington is the Vikings' leading hitter, with a .577 batting average, eight home runs, 11 triples, and 14 doubles this season.
"We seemed to hit the ball well all year," he added. "We just make them make the throws to win the game. It's become a legacy for us to come out, play hard and win. For us to win 30 games this year was quite a feat."
However, the Eskymos won their first regional title since 2003 last year, and they don't plan on handing over their crown without a fight.
"I'm pretty confident that we are going to do our best," said Eskymos catcher Emily Bogaudo.
Although Escanaba is technically hosting the game, it will be played on the Vikings' home field, but Bogaudo said that won't be an issue.
"When we go to other places, we play even harder," she said. "It doesn't matter where we are playing, because we work as a team and we all get along."
That sentiment was also stated by teammate Nicole Juhl, who came up with a big double to boost the Eskymos to victory in the district title game.
"We've said it before, our team works together very well," she said. "We're good at picking each other up and not getting down on ourselves. We work as one."
Kylie Forvilly, who played softball as a freshman but took the next two years off, decided to return to the team for her senior year. She knows that Cadillac will bring plenty of fans to cheer them on, but the Eskymos will come ready to drown out their applause.
"In the district title game, we were cheering really loud and it got everybody really pumped up," she said. "I think we're ready. We know how to work together and our cheering is what gets us excited and ready to play."
She also added that the home field advantage for Cadillac won't play a factor.
"We usually play well wherever we go, as long as we have each other," she said.
Eskymos manager John LaMarch said that they have played on plenty of other team's ball fields, and as long as they don't get hung up on the other team, it doesn't seem to matter much.
"You have to kind of take care of your own game," he said. "I think if we do that and stay focused, we're going to give ourselves a chance to win."
He said that the element that was really important in pushing his team forward was for their hitting to catch up with the rest of their game.
"We've made a conscious effort to give hitting more time in practice, and it's really paying dividends," he added. "We've just got to keep the rest of our game together and I think Why not us, right?"