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Blue Devils look to win another state championship

We’re number 1. We’re number 1. We’re number 1.

That raucous chant always sounds so good.

Immediately after the game anyway. Right after a big win.

And they do not get much bigger than when Richmond defeated Vicksburg 2-0 in the 2016 Division 2 state championship game played at Michigan State University.

Well, a year later, the Blue Devils have another chance at a state championship. They play in Ida in the 2017 Division 2 finale at 10 a.m., Saturday, at MSU.

With a full year in the rearview mirror, coach Howard Stuart just never knew how opponents would react to his team’s top-dog status.

“Man, there is pressure everywhere. Everyone wants to play their best game against you because they want to measure themselves against the state champs,” said Stuart. “I don’t mind because I would do that to. You have to know how you measure up against the best.

“But that’s where you get coaches who play their best team against your second team. We play mainly doubleheaders, and I almost always put my top team in for the first game, and my second team in for the second game. I want to give everyone a chance to play.

“Opposing coaches would flip flop on us. They would play their second team against our first team, and then their best kids against our second team because they wanted to beat the state champs,” continued Stuart. “It happened all season long. They wanted to say they beat Richmond.”

Stuart plays everyone to get all his players ready for the post season. A veteran coach, he knows how injuries can mount.

He recalls a season where three catchers went down, and the Blue Devils went into the state tournament with a freshman catcher who started the year on the junior varsity squad.

The original starting catcher broke her thumb. Her replacement stepped on a ball and dislocated her knee. The third catcher on the seating chart fractured her ring finger

“We made it to the state semifinals with a freshman catcher. That is exactly why you have to use everybody during the regular season. We try to make sure everyone is ready for the tournament,” said Stuart.

The Richmond coach caught Ida’s game on Thursday.

“I saw Ida play Thursday,” said Stuart. “They have a short game and they have two power hitters right in the middle of their lineup. Their pitcher throws about 56 miles per hour. She is what we used to call a junk ball pitcher. Now they call them spin pitchers. She hits her corners. She is pretty accurate.

“She (Ida junior Lauren Kreps) actually reminds me of one of our own pitchers. I have four pitchers and one is a spin artist. My pitcher doesn’t throw as hard as Ida’s pitcher. Taylor Xerri is my pitcher’s name. Taylor can just spin the ball. It is unbelievable. The ball comes in and all of a sudden it drops off the table on you. My own players are saying that they hate to hit against Xerri because it moves so much,” continued Stuart, smiling.

Unranked Ida downed number six Lakeshore 3-2 on Thursday.

Ida came back from Stevensville Lakeshore’s run in the first inning by scoring one in the fourth and two in the fifth.

Ida’s first run came when senior Mallorie Duvall knocked in senior Brooklyn Woelmer. Kreps gave up just one earned run during her seven innings of work.

Richmond defeated Escanaba 4-2 in its semifinal game. Evelyn Swantek cracked a three-run double, Carley Barjaktarovich had two hits and Erin Shuboy struck out seven to lead the Blue Devils.

Swantek’s double came during a four-run third inning that gave Richmond a 4-0 lead, and the Blue Devils went on to their 13th consecutive post-season victory to earn a return spot in the title game.

played at 10 a.m. Saturday at MSU’s Secchia Stadium.

Escanaba, playing Richmond in the semifinals for the second consecutive year, scored twice in the fifth to cut the Blue Devils’ lead in half, but otherwise Shuboy was in control.

Last Updated: 6/16/2017 8:27:19 PM EST