SAULT STE. MARIE - A stampeding start to the MHSAA Division 3 regional ended with a swift shift in momentum and the Rapid River Rockets falling a couple innings short of their goal.
Rapid River routed Rudyard 15-5 in the regional semifinal before succumbing to Rogers City 6-3 in the title game.
It was a long-ball parade against Rudyard as Averi Kanyuh, Neena Brockway, Savannah Stenlund and Kendyl Miller each hit homers for the Rockets.
"It was probably the best game we've had all year at the plate," said Rockets manager George Kanyuh. "Even the outs were shots to the outfield. We put on an absolute fireworks display. It was amazing the way they were hitting."
The Rockets were also able to overcome a brilliant performance from Rudyard pitcher Ashlee Bonnee. The Bulldogs senior hit three solo home runs, after not launching one over the fence all season.
"I'm disappointed we lost," Rudyard coach Pat VanSloten said, "But I'm proud of the way we kept battling the whole game - even when we were down. Rapid River is a very good team. They hit the ball well and they're solid all the way around."
Aside from Bonnee's success, Brockway was able to hold the rest of the Bulldogs lineup largely in check. She struck out 13 and allowed seven hits with no walks. All five of Rudyard's runs were earned.
Averi Kanyuh was the Rockets leader at the plate. Her homer was a three-run shot and she was 2-for-4 with a double and five RBIs. Of the other three Rockets round-trippers, two were solo shots and Miller's was a two-run blast.
"We were certainly on a high note going into the championship game, but we could have used half of those runs for the next game," said George Kanyuh.
The Rockets held a 3-1 lead going into the fifth inning against Rogers City when the game got away from them. Rogers City drew a walk before reeling off four straight hits, the last of which was a three-run homer.
"Now we were down 6-3, just like that," said Kanyuh.
The Rockets still had two innings to work with, but two spectacular plays by the Hurons' star centerfielder squashed any hope of a rally.
"Lydia Froberg hit a shot to right center and their centerfelder made an ESPN highlight catch, just dived through the air and robbed her of a double," said Kanyuh. "Next, Averi came up and made the same shot to left center, and their centerfielder made another diving catch and robbed her.
"Those two catches were game savers," he added. "I told that girl after the game, those are catches you just don't see in high school."
Also hurting the Rockets were two missed bases-loaded opportunities earlier in the game where no runs were scored.
"If we got a hit either time, who knows?" said Kanyuh. "You can get away with that maybe once in a game, but twice you're just asking for trouble. It comes back to haunt you."
Kanyuh wasn't interested in making excuses, saying his team was simply outplayed.
"I can honestly say they outhit us," he said. "That one inning killed us and those two defensive gems were plays that turned the game around."
Though the Rockets fell short of a third-straight final four berth, Kanyuh did express some pride in how far his team came this season from begining to end.
"From where this team started to where it ended is night and day and the girls finished on a high note. We were two innings away from advancing and that's huge," he said. "What's satisfying is that we were a whole lot more successful than a lot of people imagined."
Seniors Averi Kanyuh and Brockway will depart, making for a bittersweet day for George Kanyuh. But the Rockets manager takes solace in that five freshmen thrust into varsity play, will return next season as experienced sophomores.
"Losing Averi and Neena is a personal blow to me as much as it is to the team because of my ties to them," he said. "But we wll get five freshman back as sophomores, four sophomores back as juniors, Savannah comes back as a senior and a few eighth graders coming up. We'll see how quick they can catch on.
"To step up to high school is a culture shock," he added. "You're suddenly going up against 16-18 year olds and the game is much faster. Some take longer to grasp it than others, but we had a good bunch this year."