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SAM'S COLUMN: Following 'Final Fours' (PHOTOS)

Downriver teams made MHSAA state tournaments thrilling in every seasons

Cabrini's ride to the Michigan High School Athletic Association softball "Final Four" was one of the big highlights of 2013. Photo by Dave Chapman

The Gabriel Richard girls' basketball team made it all the way to East Lansing last spring before falling to Manchester in the MHSAA state semifinals. Photo by Dave Chapman

If thereís one thing Iíve realized in my 15 months covering sports here, itís that the Downriver Area is not short on talent.

I cover over 100 teams throughout the school year and if thereís one thing the past year has not lacked, itís exciting games.

From a Roosevelt-Truman football game, to a Woodhaven-Trenton soccer game to a Woodhaven-Anderson girlsí basketball game, Iíve seen many scenarios, many overtimes, and many, many exciting games.

There have been a few that stuck out more than others. In my rather short time here, Iíve had the chance to go to three MHSAA final-four games.

Iíve traveled to Compuware for hockey, Michigan State University for girlsí basketball and Battle Creek for softball.

Each brought is own, unique experience and each is memorable for me in its own way.

My first experience was in the Winter 2012-2013 season with the Riverview hockey team.

The team was good and a great one to watch. Early on in the season Coach Al Taurence promised me that they would take me to Compuware with them.

I followed the team throughout the season and was at the Allen Park ice rink when they knocked off Chelsea to advance to the final-four.

It was a back and forth game and Chris Hass netted the game-winner with under 10 to go in the final period.

I went up to Taurence to do our end-of-game interview and he said with a big smile on his face, ďSeeÖI told you weíd take you to Compuware.Ē

Just a few weeks later I found myself traveling all over the state, following the Riverview Gabriel Richard girlsí basketball team as it knocked off team after team on its trek to the state semifinals.

The drive to Flint Hamady for the quarterfinal was a long one, but more than worth it.

The Pioneers trailed all the way to the last four minutes and Ashley Hendersonís purposely missed free throw and quick rebound after led to a game-tying field goal that forced overtime.

The overtime that commenced was equally exciting and my excitement matched the teamís as they celebrated their win and the coach told me, ďWeíll see you at MSU on Thursday.Ē

When the ground finally thawed and the spring rains finally stopped, I found myself traveling all over the state once again, following the Allen Park Cabrini softball team.

I made the hike to Saginaw for the quarterfinal showdown and watched as Cabrini pitcher Paige Altherr held Reese to just one hit the entire game. A few days later I made the trip to Battle Creek for the final-four game.

Each final-four was different; from where I sat to how I handled the coverage to how I interviewed each coach.

When I went into Compuware, I wasnít sure what to expect. When I walked in, the sea of maroon and gold that greeted me was mind-boggling. The site was not too far away from Downriver, but it seemed as if the entire city of Riverview had shown up for the game.

As I made my way through the corridor, various parents and the athletic director, Jeff Stergalas greeted me. I scanned the crowd, saw other reporters perched in the press box, weighed my options and decided to settle in the best spot I enjoy watching a hockey game from; a seat at mid ice.

I curled up with my notepad and sat back to enjoy the game.

The basketball game was much different. I entered through the media entrance and was directed through twists, turns and flights of stairs until I suddenly found myself right on the court of the Breslin Center.

The feeling was overwhelming; looking up to the massive space of stands, lights and cameras. I checked in, got a wifi password and walked the edge of the court to find my spot. There it was; Samantha Elliott- News Herald. I set up shop and waited patiently for the game to start. It was my first big twitter adventure. Without having to keep stats (they were printed out for us by quarter-bonus!) I was free to basically tweet play by play of the game for those who were not able to attend the game and it was quite an experience.

Fast forward three months and it was a very different situation. Gone were my dress pants and heels, my laptop and stat sheets.

I now donned shorts and flip flops and was carrying around a softball scorebook, my hair held up with extra pens. In the recent weeks I had realized that softball presses boxes were smaller and more crowded than a football press box gets; something I hadnít thought possible and I had long ago given up on sitting in them.

When I arrived at Bailey Park in Battle Creek, I felt the buzz of excitement the second I stepped out of the car.

Flocks of fans; families, friends and former teammates had made the trip of support and lounged around playing catch and eating hot dogs as they waited for the games to start.

I flashed my pass and entered through the fence, scanning my options for the prime viewing spot.

During a normal game I could always be found sitting in my camping chair along the third base line, feet stretched out on my backpack in front of me and notebook in my lap.

That day I had opted to leave the chair in the car and it worked out for the best.

The fence lines were crowded and the stands were quickly filling. My photographer noticed it just before I did; a ladder leaning against Cabriniís dugout.

I figured it had to be there for a reason. I grabbed my bag, made sure the ladder was secure and hoisted myself up.

There wasnít a cloud in the sky and the slight early-summer breeze made it perfect conditions as I sprawled out on the roof and enjoyed the next two hours with what was, in my opinion, the perfect view.

The first final-four interview I dealt with was a press conference set up for hockey. I was used to a one-on-one interview and sat almost in awe as other reporters talked to my hockey coach. I sat quiet, listening to his responses and then interviewed him one-on-one after. During basketball, it was another press conference and this time I joined right in, asking questions along with the other reporters. Softball was far and away the most relaxed and I lounged under a tree with Cabriniís softball coach, recorder in hand, sunglasses still on as we chatted.

Even the typing of the articles was different. For two of the three, I was up against a deadline. During hockey, I found a spot just outside the ice rink, across from the concession stand and jabbed away at my keyboard, finishing with just enough time to send the article to my sports editor before deadline.

Basketball was more laid back with a looser deadline. I hung around the Breslin Center, using the media room to type my article as the cheers of the state finals floated in from the game just on the other side of the wall.

Softball brought another tight deadline and as soon as the game was over I jetted across the street to McDonalds where I luckily (and annoyingly to all the other reporters who came in after me) found a plug and quickly penned my article.

Each was unique but each holds a special memory. Itís been just over a year and Iíve already been to three final-fours.

With the amount of talent Iím already seeing in this winter season, another trip in any of the sports is definitely not out of the question. And until then, Iíll enjoy the ride, watching from the sidelines as local teams put forth their best efforts with one common goal in mind. One thingís for sure though; with the amount of talent our local team possess, it will definitely be an enjoyable ride.

Last Updated: 1/3/2014 1:52:43 PM EST

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