Ann Arbor Fr. Gabriel Richard in quest for girls basketball championship

Ann Arbor Fr. Gabriel Richard celebrates a MHSAA Division 2 regional title. The next step in quest of a state championship is a quarterfinal match against Tecumseh March 19. (Courtesy of Ann Arbor Fr. Gabriel Richard)

ANN ARBOR — The Eaglets can rest; now, it’s the Irish’s test.

With Orchard Lake St. Mary’s exciting victory for the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Division 1 boys basketball championship, the Catholic High School League’s attention turns to Ann Arbor Fr. Gabriel Richard’s quest for the MHSAA Division 2 girls crown.

The Eaglets and the Fighting Irish share similar accomplishments this season.

St. Mary’s rode a 24-game winning streak en route to a 27-1 record while Fr. Gabriel Richard is spotless at 26-0.

Both teams won their league and CHSL Bishop Division titles (second in a row for Fr. Gabriel Richard), their Operation Friendship games against the Detroit Public School League champs (again, second straight for the Irish), and were season-long ranked No. 1.

Both have their difference-making stars: St. Mary’s 6-foot-5 much-heralded junior Trey McKenney and the Irish’s sophomore Vanessa Rodriguez, a foot shorter but just as dynamic, a certain repeat All State selection.

It’s been a long time since either school won a state title: 24 years, back to 2000, for St. Mary’s. It’s further back for Fr. Gabriel Richard, to 1993, a two-overtime 43-42 decision against Mio.

In the state playoff games is where the similarities end. The Eaglets won seven games by an average of 23 points, which was bumped a bit by an 82-42 overwhelming of Ann Arbor Huron in the semifinal.

In sharp contrast, so far in four state playoff contests, the Fighting Irish have little resistance, winning by differences of 44, 40, 42 and 40 points, an average of 41.

After winning the regional title a week ago, Fr. Gabriel Richard resumes in the playoff drive with a quarterfinal match against No. 12-ranked Tecumseh (22-4) at 7 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday, March 19) at Ypsilanti Lincoln High School.

The winner advances to the semifinal three days later against either No. 2 Grand Rapids West Catholic (25-1) or Vicksburg (23-2).

The other teams in the quarterfinals are No. 4 Negaunee (25-1) vs. Flint Powers Catholic (23-3) and No. 3 Detroit Edison (20-3) vs. No. 5 Goodrich (26-0).

The semifinals will be played on Friday, March 22, and the championship game at 6:15 p.m. the next day, both at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

Spotlight on St. Mary's baseball

St. Mary’s will be in the spotlight again for curiosity’s sake, if nothing else, to see if, and how, its baseball team will fare under a new coach and with a handful of returning players from last year’s record-setting squad.

In the last four seasons, the Eaglets won 148 games and lost only seven. They set a state record for most wins in a season, 44, and most wins in a row, 84, that was just five short of the national record.

St. Mary’s beat up nine fellow CHSL squads, 79-3, for four Central Division titles and four CHSL championships.

New coach Nick DiPonio is a 1998 alumnus of St. Mary's and a former head baseball coach from 2005-12. He coached the Eaglets to six district titles, three regional titles and runners-up in the 2007 and 2009 state finals.

“It’s not about me,” DiPonio, 43, said. “It’s about the kids. I have a good staff and we’ll move the program forward and give the boys the best they deserve.”

The Eaglets open with a home-and-away series against Detroit Central: on March 27 home at 4:30 p.m., away the next day at 4 p.m.

Spotlight on Brother Rice lacrosse

If lacrosse were a sport more commonly popular than baseball, then the spotlight would shine on Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice.

Since 2005, the Warriors have an incredible record of 356 wins and 51 losses under coaches Rob Ambrose (2005-2013; 185-19) and currently since 2014 Ajay Chawla (171-32).

Brother Rice is 259-8 against 47 Michigan high schools, including 132-4 against five CHSL opponents. The four losses were to Novi Detroit Catholic Central. It has won 16 of the 18 state Division 1 championships held since the MHSAA sanctioned the sport in 2005.

The Warriors open their schedule Thursday, March 21, hosting Toledo St. Francis De Sales at 4 p.m., then welcome Mason, Ohio, at noon Saturday, March 23, and travel to play St. Mary’s Prep Thursday, March 26, for a 7 p.m. encounter.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected].


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