Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's A Matter Of Who, Not When In Oakland County

As the high school baseball season winds down in Oakland County, the question is which teams will emerge to challenge for the state crown in June.

Obviously, Lake Orion has more than defended their state championship of 2007. The Division-I champion is leading the OAA's toughest division. The Dragons have handled challenges from a highly-regarded group of Ravens from Royal Oak High, the young Colts of Troy and their arch rivals, the Wolves of Clarkston. The Dragons are probably best suited for the playoff format, with depth, talented players that benefited from last season's championship experience and therefore, probably face the least chance of upset in the district.

Northville and Novi's Detroit Catholic Central staged a hard-fought district battle last season. In 2007 Novi was down, but the Wildcats are up this season and with Northville still offering a strong squad, the two rivals seem primed for another playoff battle. Add the always tough Shamrocks from CC, who compete in the rugged Central Division of the Catholic High School League, the Novi-Northville entries from the public and private sectors could stage some playoff drama.

In south Oakland County, Coach Bob Riker and Birmingham Brother Rice are firing on all cylinders. Rice was defeated by West Bloomfield in last season's suspended district final, where the Lakers and Warriors resumed play after a rain delay and West Bloomfield upset the Warriors three days later. That West Bloomfield team went on an impressive march towards Battle Creek before bowing in the quarterfinals. While a repeat of West Bloomfield's '07 success might be asking a lot, few figured the Lakers to be within a game of the championship rounds in '07, so who's to say it couldn't be done again?

To the south of Rice, Coach Brian Gordon's Royal Oak Ravens are again a fundamentally-strong team, a crossover from the Kimball teams Gordon coached after assuming the reins from former coach Frank Clouser. If there's a close game that comes down to execution and fundamental strategy, Royal Oak will be a tough out. Below Royal oak is Madison Heights Lamphere, who earned a a Top 10 ranking in the state's coaches poll to end April.

Rounding out the entries to consider are White Lake Lakeland, lurking quietly in the shadows of a final Kensington Valley Conference season but loaded with talent prime for a tournament run. The Walled Lake schools are not to be taken lightly and of course, there's the private schools like Royal Oak Shrine and Orchard lake St. Mary's, quiet of late but always dangerous after the tougher Catholic League battles.

Of course, baseball and basketball tournaments lend themselves to natural, annual rivalries, because unlike football, every school makes the state tournament and anything can happen when two schools familiar after many years re-engage a battle that plays itself out in many different sports.

~ T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, due August 25th, 2008 from Arcadia Publishing.

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