TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Don't adjust your glasses, it's perfectly normal if you're seeing double today at the MHSAA Division 3 state quarterfinals at Traverse City West High School.
Gladstone baseball and softball are each playing their counterparts from Muskegon Oakridge at noon. A difficult decision may be in store for fans of both teams, but whether they're watching baseball or softball Tuesday, it would be hard to go wrong.
Braves baseball wil face a powerhouse of sorts. Oakridge has been to the state semifinals twice in the last decade, including in 2011. They have depth in pitching in Wyatt Hilton and D.J. Bowen. The pitching duo was a 1-2 punch for the Eagles Saturday. Oakridge (22-9-1) defeated host Morley-Stanwood 4-0 in the regional final and dispatched Mason County Central 5-1 in the semifinal.
Keith Shelton?|?Daily Press
The Gladstone baseball team poses with its regional trophy, along with the remaining members of the regional champion Gladstone softball team who stayed to watch the boys’ title game, on Saturday, in Traverse City. Both teams will be competing in the quarterfinals, today, at noon.
Bowen threw a one-hitter to lift the Eagles in the title game and Hilton was nearly as dominant in the semifinal. What's more, is the two were efficent in the victory. Both pitchers were only at 60 pitches thrown through six innings and either one could be available to throw against Gladstone.
The Eagles' top hitters include Bowen, David Dykstra, Hunter Benson, James Abriatis and shortstop Jordan Fairchild.
Gladstone (28-4) comes into the quarterfinal after dispatching Traverse City St. Francis 10-2 and Boyne City 5-2 on Saturday at Traverse City. Braves pitchers Sam Pouliot and Jake Peterson each went the distance in those two victories, Pouliot throwing upwards of 100 pitches. The rotation depth will be tested this week, with only a two-day break between the regional and the quarterfinal. If Gladstone is victories, they'll go right back at it in the state semifinal Friday and state final on Saturday.
The Oakridge girls are in new territory after winning their first regional title Saturday.
"It's an exciting time for our girls and our school," said veteran manager Joe Coletta, now in his sixth year with the team. Previously, he coached the football team at Oakridge for 25 seasons.
Gladstone (25-2) will put up senior ace Christine Sharon, the team's vocal leader and one of its best hitters as well. On Saturday, Sharon went 14 innings strong and struck out 16 while allowing just two runs in the two games.
Manager Ashley Hughes said it won't be a problem for Sharon to go right back at it today.
"She's in good spirits today (Monday)," said Hughes about Sharon. "She threw very lightly today and mentally and physically, she's prepared. She's really matured this season and she's ready to be in positions like this in big games."
Oakridge boasts a standout pitcher of their own in senior Nicole DePender. On Saturday, DePender went 18 innings in the Eagles' two regional victories, including a 2-0, 11 inning thriller in the regional final against McBain.
Oakridge also defeated West Michigan Conference rival Montague 6-3 in the semifinal.
"Nicole is a four-year starter for us and through her first three seasons she's pitched every game from day one," said Coletta. "This year it's a little different, we have some depth and she doesn't ahve to carry that load. It might be part of the reason why's she's stronger now then she might have been. She's a two-time all-conference pitcher and she just competes. She has a lot of heart and a strong will."
Leading Oakridge (29-5) at the plate is senior Morgan Giddings, another four-year starter and the Eagles' shortstop. Giddings, also the school's leading career scorer in basketball, will attend Muskegon Community College this fall.
"She's a great player, probably one of the best in the state of Michigan in my opinion," said Coletta. "She was First Team All-State last year, just a special athlete."
Like the Braves' 11 inning district victory over Negaunee, Oakridge also used the international tiebreaker to its advantage in its 11 inning win over McBain.
"We had a runner at second and Giddings at the plate. It worked out for us moreso then them," said Coletta. "To score two runs in that situation is huge. With two great pitchers going at it, it's pretty tough, so we were fortunate to have the people that we had up to bat."
Other standout hitters for Oakridge include designated player Alyssa Fessenden and third baseman Aleesa Buchner.
Hughes and Colleta both said they were more-or-less going into the quarterfinal blind about their opposition. Hughes said that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
"We heard bits and pieces from people who had seen them play. but I don't know if its anything we can use to take forward," she said. "To be honest, I think our girls play better when they have no expectations about good pitchers or their defense.
"Based on their score, a 2-0 game, pitchers going back and forth, a defensive game, we can kind of expect that. We know down the road, the pitching and the defense gets better, it's more difficult."
Oakridge achieved a couple goals this season when it defeated Holton, a Final Four team in Division-3 last season, in a tournament earlier this year. Now a Division-4 team, Holton was ranked No. 1 when Oakridge beat them.
"At that point, the girls started to think, we've got a pretty good team. It was a big boost to us, a confidence builder," said Coletta.
Oakridge also tied with Division-4 North Muskegon for their first conference title in 12 years.
"That was our No. 1 goal this season. We're proud of that," said Coletta.
Hughes said the team is confident heading down to Traverse City for the second time in three days and the support they've had only helps.
"I just want to thank the community for travelling last weekend to regionals. It was nice to see such a big crowd," she said. "It was nice to see the purple and white in the stands and it speaks volumes to the support for the two programs here."