We’re already less than a month away from the MHSAA softball district tournaments. Teams are well into their conference schedules as they prepare for the stretch run.
Port Huron and Port Huron Northern not only share the same town, but a similar roster makeup as well. They’re both teeming with youth.
Port Huron is keeping it positive
The Big Reds are still figuring out their identity. But they’ve got one part of their brand already set.
“Our biggest strength is that we don’t quit,” Port Huron coach Chris Kozlowski said. “I’ve always been pretty happy with the effort we put forth. We’re just always going to keep pushing. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1-0 or 15-0, we’re going to push.”
That’s exactly what the Big Reds did in their 6-5 win over Northern on Monday, which lifted their record to 3-8 on the season.
After trailing 3-0 in the first inning, Port Huron gradually clawed its way back.
“I feel like we’re starting to play more like a team and as a family,” said Neelie Reed, who finished with two hits and 3 RBIs in the victory.
The sophomore credited her offensive success to her upbeat attitude.
“I find that when I get down, I play worse because I’m focusing more on the bad parts of the game,” Reed said. “When I’m more positive, it helps lift me up and not think about the (negatives).”
It’s a mindset that the whole team shares.
“We preach that all the time,” Kozlowski said. “To be positive and support each other. It’s just one pitch (at a time). It doesn’t matter what count you’re in or what’s going on — it’s that one pitch. Just relax, smile, take a breath and go for it.”
Leadoff hitter Julia Gilbert has mastered that approach. The senior totaled three hits, a run and an RBI against the Huskies.
“I just think of it as me and the pitcher,” Gilbert said. “I don’t worry about anything (else) until I get two strikes.”
She didn’t see a single strike in her third at bat Monday, as Northern chose to intentionally walk the Port Huron captain. It’s the third time that’s happened to Gilbert this season.
“Never in my almost 30 years of doing this has anyone been walked intentionally three times,” Kozlowski said. “Julia has three times this season in 11 games. That’s pretty impressive.”
“I wasn’t really worried about it because Neelie was behind me,” Gilbert said. “I was like, ‘I know she’s going to hit it.’ Then she got a double and we scored two (runs).”
“We’ve got the right positive and mental attitude,” Kozlowski said. “Now we’ve just got to put that out there on the field too.”
Northern embraces its ‘process’
While the Huskies’ roster is peppered with veterans like senior Abby Landschoot and junior Becca Larson, a good chunk of it features players that are new to the high school level.
“We’re so young,” said Northern coach Ryan Shagena, whose team is at 1-12 so far. “We have five freshman starting and a sophomore. As they are mature, they’re going to learn how to overcome little obstacles within the game.
“They’ve all had their really good moments and then they’ve all had their freshman and sophomore moments too. That’s part of the growth.”
There have been flashes of potential from the underclassmen. Freshman Shannon Fealko went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, one run and a walk against Warren Cousino on April 12. Abriana Belanger, another freshman, went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and scored a run against Lakeville this past Sunday.
But Shagena wants to see more consistency from his team as a whole. Especially when it comes to playing a complete game from start to finish.
“It’s just that right now, we’re not putting seven innings together,” Shagena said. “Once we start rolling and doing that … let’s get a couple of wins under our belts and just keep building.”
Still, there isn’t any quit in these Huskies. They stormed back to tie Monday’s game against Port Huron in the top of the sixth inning. Anna Hall drove in a run with a double and eventually scored on an error to knot it up, 5-5.
“It’s a process,” Shagena said of Northern’s development. “As long as our kids keep buying in and doing what we’re asking them to do, they’re going to see rewards for their effort. There’s no doubt at it. They’re talented enough to do that.
“They’re working hard and I don’t seem them hanging their heads or anything. I’m proud with them and their effort.”
Contact Brenden Welper at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BrendenWelper.