Jul. 4—We witnessed quite the spring season.
Aside from all the havoc the COVID-19 pandemic continued to spew across the world, national and sports landscapes, northern Michigan teams flocked to Lansing for a busy week.
Baseball teams for Traverse City St. Francis and Glen Lake advanced to the Final Four on the campus of Michigan State University. Next door, Gaylord softball did the same. A next to that, Boyne City girls soccer played for the Division 3 state championship, giving the northwest Lower Peninsula four representatives on the state's biggest spring stage.
Through all those commotion, fanfare and joy, two stand out a little more than the others.
Boyne City's Jaelyn Jarema and Gaylord's Braleigh Miller both went above and beyond.
Jarema, who had twice injured the same knee in the postseason, gave it a go with a noticeable limp in the Division 3 title game against top-ranked Detroit Country Day. The senior midfielder played admirably, but obviously wasn't the same player who roamed the midfield to the chagrin of opponents throughout the region this season.
She played several minutes on the knee before exiting the game. She did not return.
But she gave it her all. No more you can ask for.
Miller, the Blue Devils' freshman center fielder, broke her hand in the first game of regionals against Escanaba and served as a pincher runner the rest of the postseason.
That is, until the ninth inning of the state semifinals.
That's when she talked her way into the lineup as a pinch hitter, taking off her velcro cast in the dugout and approaching the plate disguised as a slap hitter.
"I just knew that I was capable of getting the job done for my team whenever they needed me," Miller said. "Broken hand and all, I sucked it up and I was like, 'I need to do what my team needs me to do. I need to get it done.' That's the mentality I went up there with.
"It was just a really cool experience getting to play here and being able to do whatever I needed to do for my team. It was just a really awesome feeling."
As the semifinal against Owosso stayed close, Miller approached coaches during the contest, saying she could hit if they needed her.
In the ninth inning, trailing 2-0, they did just that. The left-handed bat came into the game, faking several bunt and slap attempts that threw off the pitcher, and she ended up drawing a walk and eventually scoring the Devils' only run in the 2-1 setback.
When you've come this far, the competitive fire inside wants to keep going, even if the body can't hold up that long.
Miller and Jarema showed that determination in spades, doing whatever they could to extend their seasons even just a little longer.
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