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Birmingham

June 13, 2013

Brother Rice baseball team set to face Howell High in Division 1 semifinal

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
Matt Ruppenthal (8-1) gets the ball in Friday's semifinal. The junior pitcher is six-days removed from a complete-game shutout in the regional round.

BIRMINGHAM — In a meeting many had hoped for, the Brother Rice baseball team proved it was the best in Oakland County.

Now, six days later, the Warriors have the chance to stand alone in entire state.

For the first time since winning a Division 1 championship in 2008, Rice is on its way to Battle Creek, and on Friday morning, the Warriors lock horns with a Howell High team looking to avenge a loss in the 2012 semifinals.

“Very excited right now, to be part of this again and get out there,” Rice coach Bob Riker said Thursday morning. “We’re going to have a practice today, then hit the road, spend the night, get up early for batting practice and try and win a ball game.”

Few teams are hotter right now than these two, which will square off at 10 a.m. at Nichols Field inside Bailey Park.

Rice (31-8-1) is fresh off a 7-3 victory against Lake Orion High in Tuesday’s quarterfinal and has been rolling right along since winning the Catholic League title a month ago at Comerica Park.

Howell (33-7) has been equally impressive, especially in the tournament.

The Highlanders cruised past Temperance Bedford 11-1 in their quarterfinal game and have allowed only nine runs in six postseason games thus far.

But it’s the offense that may be the biggest reason for concern to Rice.

“They are going to run, be aggressive on the base paths and aggressive at the plate,” Riker said. “They are a team that likes to put a ton of pressure on you. … We’re two very evenly matched teams, but the scary thing they have is speed.”

Howell has scored 52 runs this playoff.

“We can’t put guys on base,” Riker added. “We have to make them hit their way on, if they are going to get on. If we walk them or give them any more than three outs, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Matt Ruppenthal gets the ball for Rice. The hard-throwing right-hander hasn’t pitched a ton this season, but is 8-1 and fresh off a 2-0, complete-game victory against Walled Lake Northern in the regional semifinal.

“I expect him to do what he always does,” Riker boasted of Ruppenthal. “If (Howell) is going to beat us, they’re going to have to beat our best guy.”

The same may be true for Rice.

While Riker wasn’t certain, he expects his offense to face Howell’s ace, senior Tyler Bradner.

“If they don’t start with him, they will likely end with him,” Riker said.

Bradner did pitch Tuesday, but was hardly overwhelmed in throwing a five-inning no-hitter against Bedford.

He beat the Warriors earlier this season, earning the victory in an 8-3 decision that took nine innings to complete.

Rice won the second game of the doubleheader, but Ruppenthal did not pitch either time.

While Howell was in Battle Creek a year ago, falling to Warren De La Salle 3-2 in a semifinal, the Warriors bring a roster full of Battle Creek rookies.

“We have four coaches who have coached or played there,” Riker said. “They understand what this is all about, and have to work with our guys to make sure they know, too.”

The game is also a bit of a personal one for Riker and Howell coach Mike Weatherly, who were teammates from their college playing days at Central Michigan University.

The D-1 final is set for 9:30 a.m. June 15 at C.O. Brown Stadium.

The other semifinal features Bay City Western (40-2) against Sterling Heights Stevenson (28-8).

Mike Moore will be covering the semifinals and final, should Rice advance, He will be blogging live during the games.

Follow along at www.candgnews.com and email Mike during the games at mmoore@candgnews.com.

 

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.