In its first regionals appearance in school history, Richard Alvarez expects his Jonesville softball team to do more than just show up and enjoy the scenery.
Despite owning just a 14-18 record heading into a Clinton regional full of squads with 23 or more wins, Alvarez believes a precedent for surprising postseason success has been set in the area, and he’d like to continue the tradition.
“We talked about what happened in districts. Nobody gave us a shot at districts and look what happened. If it can happen at districts, it can happen anywhere at any level,” he said. “I also used Hillsdale’s (state championship) baseball team from two years as an example. They had a (sub-.500) record, so I told the girls once you get into the tournament anything can happen.”
Anything, such as an upset of district host Hanover-Horton (20-14), did happen just last week, but they will have to beat Manchester (23-14) in a 12:30 p.m. contest on Saturday to keep the feel-good story alive.
The Flying Dutchmen are a team that has no trouble piling up runs, evident by the 13 games in which they scored double-digit runs this season, and last weekend they demonstrated their explosiveness.
Manchester had 15 hits in a 14-0 beat-down of Grass Lake in the district championship game and it should be noted that during the Cascades Conference season, Manchester scored 15 runs against Napoleon, a team gave up a total of three runs to the rest of the conference.
With that in mind, Alvarez said it is essential that senior pitching ace Kelsey Aemisegger gets off to a good start.
“Kelsey is the kind of pitcher, where she has to have that good start, she has to believe that her team is going to play well behind her defensively,” he said. “If she gets the feeling like what’s the sense in pitching the ball if I don’t have a defense behind me, that’s when she falls apart and she tends to lose her focus and her confidence.”
Last weekend Aemisegger had a good start coupled with a great finish in the Comets’ semifinals victory over Hillsdale.
She struck out 14 Hornet batters and allowed just two hits in a 5-1 win.
Alvarez said he needs more of the same production and leadership from Aemisegger for his girls to have their best shot at advancing.
“Kelsey’s probably going to be our horse the rest of the way out. Our team knows that Kelsey is the horse on the team,” he said. “I’ve used that to try to get Kelsey’s mind in the right place — I tell her all the time that she is the senior and this is what she wants. I tell her however she responds the team responds, so I need her to step up and be a leader.”
Clinton was ranked No. 7 in the final Division 3 MHSAA coaches poll and made quick work of its district, winning three straight games by a 15-0 count, in just 11 innings of total action.
They are led by superstar freshman pitcher Tierney Nelson who has a 17-2 record, with 13 shutouts and five no-hitters to her credit this season.
Lumen Christi on the other hand is fresh off an 11-3 pasting of the state’s No. 5 team in Division 3, Napoleon, snapping the Pirates’ 19-game winning streak.
Alvarez said he is familar with both programs and knows that Clinton likes to play “small ball” quite often, using bunts and infield hits to advance runners.
“We’ve been working on the short game, like covering bunts and a lot stuff, because teams like Clinton are quick on the bases,” he said.
Alvarez said it has been “huge” to witness the growth and maturation of his girls and he feels like they are peaking at precisely the right time.
“At the beginning of the season I knew the potential was there, but I also knew we had a lot of work to do. I told the girls not to get down when you lose,” he said. “There are some games where there had to be a winner and loser and we just came out on the losing end. But I’d rather be losing early in the season and stay focused and use those losses as building blocks for the end of the season, when hopefully you’re winning — and we are.”