No. 8 Canton opens play in murderously tough KLAA West with 6-1 win over Novi
NOVI — There are no afternoons off in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association’s West Division this spring.
The split with the schools that broke off to form the Lakes Valley Conference two years ago removed a handful of the conference’s top-shelf softball programs — but the powerhouses that remained were at least equally split between the Association’s two divisions.
A second reshuffling of the alignments since the split has pushed all of the power in the conference into a super-division in the West, meaning that every single divisional game is going to be both a dogfight, and critical to a team’s conference hopes.
“Did you see what they did to us? I mean, that’s pitiful, man,” said Canton coach Al White “We’ve always been with Plymouth and Salem, but now we’ve got Hartland AND Howell … and Northville … and Brighton. Brighton’s pretty daggone good, too. Like I told the girls, ‘EVERY game …’”
The first “EVERY game” for the Chiefs (2-0, 1-0 KLAA West) was on Monday, when they went on the road and beat Novi (2-1, 2-1 KLAA West) by a 6-1 margin in the first half of the home-and-home series.
The rematch is Wednesday in Canton, and former White assistant Jim Carlisle, in his first year at the helm of Novi, knows how nice of a homecoming it would be if the Wildcats could even the series.
“These kids, I’m proud of them. They fought hard. They don’t quit, they fight. I know every inning, every strike, they’re going to fight. They’re fun to coach, they really are. They’re not going to back down from anybody. They shouldn’t, because they’re a good team,” Carlisle said. “I told them, ‘Good teams lose games. Canton’s going to lose games. They’re ranked eighth in the state, and they’re not going to go undefeated. They’re going to lose games.’ I told them, ‘Sometimes you get the bear, and sometimes the bear gets you.’”
Good teams do lose games, and that’s going to be something that happens with regularity in the KLAA West. With a lineup that stacked, there are going to be teams sporting .500 records that are far better than their record would show.
“You’re going to have teams with .500 records that could win districts and regionals, because they’ve seen so much good competition, and it makes them better,” Carlisle said. “It’s a tough, tough division. Boy, it’s loaded. There are no days off. You’re in a dogfight every day. That makes you better in the end, but boy it’s tough. It’s probably one of the toughest divisions in the state, hands down.”
How tough? Here’s a look at how those teams have done over the years of KLAA play.
In the first nine years of the conference’s existence (2008-09 to 2016-17, from creation to the LVC split):
• Canton won a share of five South Division titles, three Kensington Conference titles, and one Association title.
• Plymouth won a share of five South Division titles, three Kensington Conference titles, and two Association titles. (The Wildcats also won last year’s Association title after the initial post-LVC shuffle.)
• The third of the PCEP squads, Salem, won two Central Division titles, and the first Kensington Conference title in a season in which there was no overall KLAA champ named.
• Northville won a share of three Central Division titles, and one Kensington Conference championship.
• On the other side of the original Association format, Howell won four West Division titles and two Lakes Conference crowns, winning the final Association title before the split.
• Hartland won three West Division titles, and lost in last year’s Association title game.
All of those teams are now in the KLAA’s West Division, along with Brighton and Novi.
Three of them — Hartland (No. 2), Howell (No. 4) and Canton (No. 8) — were ranked in the top 10 in Division 1 in the preseason rankings from the Michigan High School Softball Coaches Association, while a fourth — Plymouth — is an honorable mention.
And on the other side?
Of the teams currently in the East Division — Belleville, Livonia Churchill, Livonia Franklin, Dearborn, Dearborn Fordson, Westland John Glenn, Livonia Stevenson or Wayne Memorial — only Franklin (2008-09) has ever won even a divisional title in the KLAA.
Novi dropped its first game of the season on Monday, in part because Canton sophomore hurler Anna Halliday held the top three in the Wildcats order to a combined 0-for-10 with one walk and five strikeouts, and in part because the Wildcats went 0-for-6 as a team with runners in scoring position.
“They were getting the hits with people on base, and we weren’t. We were literally three hits away from winning that game, because we left about six people on base. With key hits, right here, that’s different. That score doesn’t indicate how close this game was. This was (more like) a 4-3, 3-2 ballgame,” Carlisle said. “The difference was they got the key hits with runners in position, and we didn’t. When you lose a really close game like that, that’s going to be the difference. Or errors.”
The only rally in which the Wildcats cashed in came in the bottom of the fourth, with Canton already leading 3-0. A single and two errors loaded the bases, and Zoe Zuccato drove in a run with a groundout, but Halliday recorded one of her nine strikeouts to wiggle out of the jam. She would end potential Novi scoring rallies in the second and sixth the same way.
On the other side, the Chiefs were 4-for-10 with runners in scoring position, with two walks, scoring on an error in the second, then expanding the lead to 3-0 with two runs — on an RBI single by Faith Cramton and RBI double by Halliday.
Halliday (3-for-3, three RBI, walk, two runs) drove in two with a bases-loaded single in the fifth to make it 5-1, then Nicole Dawson’s bases-loaded infield single in the top of the seventh added an insurance run.
Sporting an all-new infield, and one that hadn’t played together in 12 days, the Chiefs — who graduated eight seniors from last year’s squad — had three errors to the two the senior-laden Wildcats committed behind freshman hurler Ally Sharnowski.