CHESANING — Ninth-ranked Chesaning will try to follow up its Mid-Michigan Activities Conference championship with its second straight Division 3 district title.
The Indians (24-3) will first have to get by Hemlock today in a 4:30 p.m. pre-district game at Chesaning. The winner will move on to the semifinals Saturday, facing St. Charles at 10 a.m. Saginaw Valley Lutheran and Montrose square off in the late semifinal at noon with the district title game looming at 2 p.m.
“We have a good shot at winning it, but like I tell the girls all the time, you still have to play your game and play solid and hit the ball and field the ball. Anything can happen,” Chesaning coach Ron Poyer said.
The Indians haven’t faced Hemlock or St. Charles this season, but they swept Montrose early in the season 21-0 and 16-0. They also routed Valley Lutheran 11-1 at the Owosso Invitational May 18.
“I’m not sure what (Hemlock’s) record is, but from what I gather their first four or five hitters are pretty good hitters and they have a really solid pitcher,” Poyer said. “It should be a good game. Then we have Valley Lutheran and St. Charles. They’ll both be very good teams as well.”
One of the keys to success will be junior right-hander Taylor Gross, who has a 23-3 record and has set single-season and career strikeout records. She surpassed the marks set by Shawn Loachridge and became the first pitcher in Chesaning history to surpass 500 career strikeouts.
Gross — who has pitched in every game — has struck out 209 batters while walking only 30, with a 1.65 ERA. After Chesaning’s second-string pitcher from last season didn’t come out for softball, Gross decided to shoulder the pitching load herself.
“I said (to Poyer), ‘If you need me to pitch both games all season, I’ll do that for you — just put me where you need to put me and I’ll do it.’ ” said Gross, who has tossed seven no-hitters this spring. “I worked really hard this winter to get into shape, in case I had to do that.”
But Chesaning has also shined in the batter’s box, with five players batting .400 or higher — three are over .500.
First-team All-State center fielder Erica Barta, the leadoff hitter, has a .548 average with seven home runs. Left fielder Elizabeth Coon is batting .527 and shortstop Haylei Drope is hitting .508.
Gross (.484) and catcher Julia Bishop (.407) are also above the .400 line.
“Barta pretty much leads our team in most of the offensive categories,” Poyer said. “She has scored 48 runs and she’s definitely the catalyst of the offense. It doesn’t seem like we’re just relying on one person offensively and everybody has their turn.”
Gross said Chesaning has a veteran team with six seniors and returned its entire core from a team that reached the regional semifinals last season before losing 5-0 to Byron.
“We have a strong connection with each other,” Gross said. “And everyone makes their plays. They field their positions. Everyone just does what they have to do and it makes it a really good team effort when we win the games.”
2019 District Softball Preview
Division 2 District 40 at St. Johns
Matchups: Saturday — Owosso vs. St. Johns, 10 a.m.; Corunna vs. Alma, noon; championship, 2 p.m.
Outlook: Flint Metro League champion Owosso, led by freshman pitching ace Macy Irelan (1.03 ERA, 146 strikeouts), will take a 26-8 record into a 10 a.m. district semifinal against St. Johns (17-16). Corunna (5-24) faces Alma at noon in the other district semifinal. Owosso would appear to be the favorite as the Trojans seek their second straight district and sixth overall under longtime coach JoEllen Smith.
Division 3 District 95 at Chesaning
Matchups: Today (pre-district) — Hemlock vs. Chesaning, 4:30 p.m.; Saturday — Chesaning/Hemlock winner vs. St. Charles, 10 a.m; Saginaw Valley Lutheran vs. Montrose, noon; championship, 2 p.m.
Outlook: Chesaning will have a good shot at winning this district if it can get past Hemlock today in a 4:30 p.m. matchup. The Indians have already handily beaten both Valley Lutheran and Montrose during the regular season.
Division 3 District 76 at Laingsburg
Matchups: Today (pre-district) — Perry (6-16) vs. Ovid-Elsie (9-15), 4 p.m. Saturday —Perry/Ovid-Elsie winner vs. Laingsburg (16-17), 10 a.m.; Bath vs. Pewamo-Westphalia (20-15), noon; championship, 2 p.m.
Outlook: Pewamo-Westphalia (10-8, 13-3 CMAC) appears to be the favorite, but Perry and Ovid-Elsie, led by pitchers Megan Demerly and Mikayla Timm, respectively, could have something to say about that. Laingsburg, which has struggled recently with pitching concerns, still boasts one of the top hitters in the area in Kara Mahoney.
Division 3 District 96 at Durand
Matchups: Saturday — New Lothrop vs. Durand, noon; championship, New Lothrop/Durand winner vs. Byron, 2 p.m.
Outlook: New Lothrop (24-9), an honorable mention team in the Division 3 state poll, faces Durand (7-16) at noon in a semifinal test. The winner will face Byron (18-11) in the championship game at Durand at 2 p.m. New Lothrop had just two losses in the MMAC — but one was to Byron. It is likely the teams will face each other again, setting up a potential pitching duel between standouts Jersey Hemgesberg of New Lothrop and Byron’s Lauren Viele. Byron is seeking its fourth straight district crown, while New Lothrop is shooting for its second in the last three years.
Division 4 District 112 at Potterville
Matchups: Saturday — Dansville vs. Morrice, 10 a.m.; Potterville vs. Webberville, noon; championship, Dansville/Morrice winner vs. Potterville/Webberville winner, 2 p.m.
Outlook: Webberville (13-9) swept Morrice 19-12 and 12-4 on April 15, but the Orioles have rebounded to go 12-5 and could be poised to upset the Spartans. Potterville stands 7-16.