Both the Lakers and Wildcats have been mainstays in the regional round of competition since 2015, with the two squads meeting up twice. In 2015, the Wayland rolled to an 8-0 win over Spring Lake in the semifinals, but the most recent meeting saw the Lakers take a thrilling 7-6 win over the Wildcats to claim the program's first regional championship.
That experience should serve this year's collection of Lakers well, according to head coach Bill Core.
"Last year was a big deal for our program," he said Wednesday night. "We had never taken home a regional title before, so to break through against a team that had our number a little bit was a great feeling. We also learned a lot once we got to the quarterfinals against Stevensville Lakeshore.
"We've talked all offseason about the takeaways from that game. I think we let the moment get to us a little bit on that big stage. Now, if we're lucky enough to get back there, I think we'll be a little more level-headed and prepared. I think the girls are more confident heading into this year's regional tournament than they were last year, too. That can be a big deal when you're playing in these tight games late in the postseason."
The first order of business for the Lakers will be ousting a team with a similar setup and a long-standing history of success.
The Wildcats return three All-Star performers from last year's squad, including ace pitcher Abby Merice and veteran slugger Sydney Urben.
"Merice and Urben are both four-year varsity starters, and a lot of those kids have been playing varsity ball for some time," added Core. "Merice was an All-State fielder as a freshman, and now she's been their pitcher for three years.
"They do have some younger players stepping into big roles for them, too. They have a freshman catcher and a freshman shortstop, so they might not be as experienced on defense as they were last year."
The Lakers' plan of attack will be to keep the pressure on the Wildcat defense when they are at the plate and keep them off-balance when the Lakers are out in the field.
"Our two biggest talking points this week have been putting the ball in play, whether that's small ball or stringing together hits, and then our pitchers need to hit their spots," Core continued. "We know there isn't going to be anymore 15-0 games left this season. Everything from here on out is going to come down to execution and doing the little things correctly.
"We've got a few scrimmages in this week, we feel sharp and I know the girls are focused. It's just a matter of which team is going to make those little plays in key moments."
SCOUTING REPORT: Wayland Union Wildcats
Key Players: seniors Abby Merice (P), Sydney Urben (3rd), Chloe Coughlin (DH) and Lauren McCulligh (1st/P)
ROAD TO THE REGIONAL
Defeated Middleville Thornapple Kellogg (5-2)
Defeated Wyoming Kelloggsville (14-0)
Defeated GR South Christian (3-1)