The day has finally arrived.
Nearly 11.5 weeks of high school boys soccer has been played and finally we have arrived at the MHSAA Boys Soccer State Finals weekend here in Michigan.
There are four games on tap for Saturday with Division 1 and Division 3 being played at Comstock Park High School north of Grand Rapids, while Division 2 and Division 4 being played at Novi High School in Metro Detroit’s western suburbs.
Below are the picks, made by veteran sportswriter Dan Stickradt:
Rockford (22-0-1) vs. Rochester Adams (16-1-6), 12 p.m. Saturday at Comstock Park: This is an intriguing matchup not only because it pits two schools from power conferences in the state but because these two schools have allegedly never faced off before on the pitch. Rockford comes from the Ottawa Kent Conference Red Division and Adams the Oakland Activities Association Red Division. Rockford, the OKC-Red champs, is the only unbeaten team left in the tournament and the Rams are enjoying the memorable ride which includes only nine goals allowed, a team goals-against-average around 0.39, a school record 14 shutouts and an explosive offense that has chalked up 77 goals. The Rams are experienced, physically fit better than just about anyone, and deep, averaging around 18-20 players gaining minutes in the postseason. Adams has just one loss but was still the fifth-place finisher in the loaded eight-school OAA Red Division (2-1-4, 10 points). The Highlanders are one of five OAA-Red schools ranked in the top eight entering the postseason and one of three teams to win from the league to win at least a district crown. Adams is also 3-1-3 against fellow state-ranked teams this year and is making its fourth all-time state finals appearance. The Highlanders have also reached the Final Four seven times since 1999, the year the school won its only state title, and final eight nine times over the past 23 years. Both teams counter with exceptional goaltending and have a 38-1-7 record between the two sides with a combined 27 shutouts. All of this makes for a potentially great matchup.
PICK: Rockford 3, Rochester Adams 1
Richland Gull Lake (21-3-0) vs. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook (15-1-3), 12 p.m. Saturday at Novi: Starting with two of the top programs in Division 2 over the past 15 years and this east-west clash pits an explosive offensive juggernaut against a defensive-minded unit. Gull Lake is in the Final Four for the fourth time in the last five seasons, winning the Division 2 title in 2020. The Blue Devils are making their fifth all-time appearance in the title match, going after their fourth state title, and are in the Final Four for the eighth time overall in 35 years. Gull Lake has as good of an offense as anybody in the state, scorching the nets for a 92-14 scoring edge with 14 clean sheets. Cranbrook is going after its first MHSAA state crown in school history. The Cranes’ only other appearance in the state finals was in 2014. Cranbrook is in the Final Four for the seventh time since 2009 and has won at least a district nine times in 14 seasons. The Cranes are hard to score upon, giving up 17 goals in 19 games but yielding just one goal in six tournament contests. Can defense win out or will there be an offensive showcase in this one?
PICK: Richland Gull Lake 4, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook 2
Holland Christian (19-1-3) vs. Grosse Ile (14-7-0), 3 p.m. Saturday at Comstock Park: Interesting matchup against two more teams that seemingly are in the top 15 in the state every year during the past two decades. Holland Christian has two state titles in its past, winning crowns in 1986 and 2003. The Maroons also lost in the state semifinals in 2008. What makes the Ottawa Kent Conference Blue Division champs so stellar this year is its defense. Holland Christian has outscored its opposition 65-7 this season with 17 shutouts, and the team 0.31 goals-against-average is one of the best in state history and the best during the 2022 campaign. The Maroons have not lost since mid-August, and that was against 2021 D-3 state champion Grand Rapids South Christian, a team ranked in the top five all of the 2022 campaign. Grosse Ile has overcome a youth movement and several early-season injuries to reach the state title match for the fifth straight season and sixth time overall. The Red Devils are in the Final Four for the 10th time overall and ninth time in the last 21 seasons. The program is used to winning, earning district titles in 17 of the last 18 seasons and 21 times over the last 27 campaigns. Additionally, Grosse Ile has advanced to at least the Elite Eight (regional finals) 15 times in 25 years and Sweet 16 a total of 19 times since 1995. But there is something to be said about a sterling defense and Holland Christian has been incredible at keeping the ball out of the back of the net this year.
PICK: Holland Christian 2, Grosse Ile 1 (OT)
Muskegon Western Michigan Christian (15-8-2) vs. Ann Arbor Greenhills (8-6-4), 3 p.m. Saturday at Novi: It’s happened a couple of times before in MHSAA state finals lore that a school that finished the regular season under the five-hundred mark has made a surprise run to the final day of the season. But could this be the first time that two schools that never cracked the top 15 state rankings during the course of a season squaring off in the state title game? Likely. Ironically, both programs have been stellar in the lower divisions of the postseason in their respective histories. Western Michigan Christian is 7-7 all-time in state title matches and is making its 15th appearance in the state finals, one of the all-time best ever totals. Additionally, the Warriors have reached the Final Four a total of four other times for a total of 19 postseason runs to at least the state semifinals. WMC has also lost in the regional finals two other times and the regional semifinals four other times. To count, that’s 25 trips to at least the Sweet 16 in the state tournament. An independent this season, Western Michigan Christian started the season 2-5-0 but is now riding an eight-game win streak. Flip over to Ann Arbor Greenhills and the Gryphons are making their sixth all-time appearance in the state championship match, previously going 1-4 in title bouts. Greenhills won its only state crown in 2017 and this year is making its 10th overall appearance in the Final Four and 14th appearance in the Elite Eight. Still, the Gryphons are only 8-6-4 overall and scored just 29 goals all season. Could this magical Cinderella-run end with a state title? Not likely. Western Michigan Christian has outscored its opposition 83-34 this season, including 19-4 in the state tournament and has defeated four straight ranked teams.
PICK: Muskegon Western Michigan Christian 3, Ann Arbor Greenhills 1
HATS OFF TO …
Upper Peninsula Division I Champion: Marquette
Upper Peninsula Division II Champion: Escanaba-Gladstone Bayside Unified
Michigan Association of Christian Schools Division I State Champion: Rochester Hills Christian
Michigan Association of Christian Schools Division II State Champion: Gladwin Skeels Christian
Michigan Home School Sports Association State Champion / Midwest Champion: Byron Center West Michigan Home School Heat
(Dan Stickradt is a 29-year veteran multi-media journalist in Michigan and Web and Content Editor for the Michigan Soccer Network. Follow on Twitter @LocalSportsFans. Email story suggestions and editorial content to firstname.lastname@example.org)