2011 Year in Review Sports 2011

Posted In: Sports, Local Sports, National Sports, Saginaw Spirit, Great Lakes Loons,   From Issue 738   By: Thomas Baird

22nd December, 2011     0

Professional Sports in Michigan
The Detroit Lions finished the 2010 season out strong by winning their last four games to finish at 6-10.   The 2011 team started out strong by going 5-0 and then hitting a stride by going 3-5 over the next 8 weeks.   Heading into the homestretch of season the Lions should qualify for the NFL playoffs.  Quarterback Matt Stafford has stayed injury free most of the season and has put up some big numbers so far.   He has 28 touchdown passes to give up just 14 interceptions.  Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson started the season on fire with 2 touchdown catches in each of the first four games.  The running back position has been hit hard by injuries to Kevin Smith and Javid Best early in the 2011 season.  This has made the Lion offense rather predictable in 2011.   The other big story with the Lions has been the play of Ndamukong Suh being suspended for two games for stomping on a Green Bay Packers arm during the Thanksgiving Day game. 
The Detroit Pistons stumbled to a recent all time low with a bad season in 2010 - 2011.  At season's end saw the firing of Coach John Kuester by team President Joe Dumars.   Also the big news over the summer was the sale of the team to Flint native Tom Gores.  The sale took several months of negotiations for the rights to all of the property that the late Bill Davidson owned.   Then to start off the 2011 -2012 saw the players go on strike without a Collective Bargaining Agreement.   The NBA owners and players reached a 10-year agreement in late November and now will start the season on Christmas Day with a shortened 66 game schedule.  The Pistons did resign Tayshaun Prince and let long time veteran Rip Hamilton go.  The Pistons should make a push to make the NBA Playoffs with new Head Coach Lawrence Frank.  
2011 proved to be an incredible year for the Detroit Tigers.  The Tigers were the 2011 Central Division Champions in the American League running away with the title.  Several Detroit Tigers had career years including the American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander.   His 24-5 record along with his ERA of 2.40 and 250 strikeouts all which would lead the American League for a pitcher's Triple Crown.   He then would go on to win the MVP for the American League the first time this has happened since 1984.   It so happens that winner was another Tiger pitcher named Willie Hernandez
Guys like Doug Fister, Victor Martinez, and Alex Avila all would have outstanding summers for the Tigers.  However the Tigers had the American League's top hitter in Miguel Cabrera who hit .344 just edging his own teammate in Victor Martinez.   Fister a midseason pick-up would go 8-1 down the stretch for Tigers.   Delmon Young a last minute trade from the Minnesota Twins provided a much-needed spark in the pennant drive.   It seemed like ever move that Manager Jim Leyland made worked out. 
The Tigers would face the storied New York Yankees in the American League Divisional Series.  The Yankees with that loaded line-up featuring ex-Tiger Curtis Granderson would have a breakout year.   Classic pitching matchups were seen in the first round with C.C. Sabathia going against Justin Verlander.   The weather played problems in this Series and caused some delays and changes in the rotation.   However the Series would go five games with the Tigers winning it 3-2.   Now on the American League Championship Series.
The Texas Rangers all of sudden got hot in October and powered their way into the ALCS.   Again weather affected the start of this series.  The Rangers won the first two games at home and brought series back to Comerica Park.   The Tigers then would take 2 out 3 to trail in the Series 3 games to two.  The ALCS would see some classic games going into extra innings.  The Tigers headed back to Texas with the hottest pitcher going for them in Doug Fister.   However the Rangers who lost in last year's World Series had different plans.  They would jump all over every pitcher that Detroit threw their way and defeated the Tigers 15 - 5.   Texas would win the ALCS 4 - 2 and move on to the World Series to face the St. Louis Cardinals the team the Tigers faced in the 2006 World Series.    I firmly believe that the Tigers will have all key players in place for the 2012 season and should make another long run in the 2012 playoffs.  
College Sports
College Football left us with some great football during the 2011 season.  Starting with the two Big Ten teams who both enjoyed winning seasons.  Michigan State University finished the regular season with a 10-2 record and would play in the first Big Ten Conference Championship game against Wisconsin who they defeated in the regular season 37-31 on a Hail Mary pass in overtime.  However the Badgers would prevail in the Championship game, which seriously affected on where the Spartans would play in their Bowl game.   Several local players contributed to MSU's great season including Saginaw Nouvel's Brad Sonatag and Bay City Central's Trenton Robinson. 
The Spartans will now face the University of Georgia in the Outback Bowl.   Quarterback Kirk Cousins a 3-year starter several career records at MSU this season.  Head Coach Mark Dantonio is now 43-21 in his five seasons at MSU.
The University of Michigan under 1st Head Coach Brady Hoke enjoyed some unexpected success this year with a 10-2 record and the only real blemish was the loss to cross state rivals MSU for the 4th year in a row.  The Wolverines finished the season strong by defeating big time programs Nebraska and Ohio State University who they had not beaten in the past 8 seasons. 
Quarterback Denard Robinson had another outstanding season for the Wolverines by rushing for over 1,000 yards and passing for over 2,000 yards for the second year in a row.   Fritz Toussaint also rushed for over 1,000 yard for the Wolverines.   Michigan also won all 8 home games at the Big House for the first time in history.   The Wolverines are now preparing for the Sugar Bowl where they will face Virginia Tech.
Central Michigan University's football team struggled to their second straight 3-9 season under second year Head Coach Dan Enos. 
Both Michigan State University and University of Michigan basketball teams are off to great starts in the 2011-2012 season.  
Michigan State University started the season by facing two of the top teams in the country North Carolina and Duke losing both contests.   Saginaw High's Draymond Green is leading the Spartans in his senior season by being among the Big Ten leaders in scoring and rebounding.  The Spartans record stands at 8-2 after losing their first two games.  
The University of Michigan currently stands also at 8-2 by also playing some stiff competition in the early part of their schedule.  The Wolverines are looking to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2012.   The Maize and Blue played in the Maui Classic and fairing well against the likes of Duke, UCLA and Memphis.  The Wolverines are lead by senior guards Zack Novak and Stu Douglas.   Playing in a newly renovated Crisler Arena should make things pretty exciting in Ann Arbor this season.
High School Sports 2011
The two big stories on the local High School sports scene would be the Saginaw Nouvel Catholic Panthers returning to Ford Field to win another High School State Championship in 2011.   Mike Boyd's charges ran off to a perfect 13-0 record.  Nouvel defeated Pewano-Westphaila 56-26 after jumping out to a 56-12 lead at halftime.   Bennet Lewis set a MHSAA record with 5 rushing touchdowns in the game.  The Division 7 champs are always in contention to reach the finals of the MHSAA tournament.  Good things continue to happen over at Nouvel Catholic Central High School.   Coach Mike Boyd has followed in father's footsteps in winning some State Championships.
The other big story in 2011 High School sports would have been Bay City Western's Boys Basketball team run to the semi-finals at the Breslin on the campus of MSU.  The Warriors recorded the best record in school history in losing the semi-final game.  They were lead by 6'10” junior Matt Costello who is going to MSU to continue his career after this season.  Matt won the Gatorade Player of the Year in Michigan.   He should be a heavy favorite to win the “Mr. Basketball” award which given to the State's top player. 
Saginaw Spirit 2012
The defending OHL Western Conference Saginaw Spirit has started out the 2011-2012 season on a poor note.   Struggling during the early part of the season has seen the high draft picks the Spirit playing poorly.  Longtime General Manager and Head Coach Todd Watson was unable to find the right lines to get this years team succeeding.  The attendance has been down at the Dow Event Center early in the season and even has seen the Spirit cover a number of seats at each end of the arena for advertising. 
Team President Craig Goslin decided that something had to be done to shake up the team.   Todd Watson was fired in mid-December and then replaced by lifelong hockey guru Greg Gilbert.   The 16 year NHL veteran also comes along with a great resume in the coaching circles.  He has been the Head Coach at the NHL, AHL and OHL levels over the past 14 years.  One can sense the excitement now back at the Dow Event Center this winter season.  Things can only get better for the long time hockey fans in area.   I can see the Saginaw Spirit returning to the OHL playoffs in 2012.
The Great Lakes Loons
The Great Lakes Loons had another successful season in the Class A Midwest League in 2011.   Several highly touted players came through Midland this summer on their way to the Major Leagues.  The Loons finished with a 72-65 record to just missing out on making the Midwest League playoffs for the third year in a row.   Once again the Los Angeles Dodgers placed a number 1 draft pick on the Loons roster for the entire season.   2010 # 1 pick 19 year Zach Lee spent the entire season with the Loons.   The Dodgers signed Zach with a 5.25 million dollar bonus.   The right-handed pitcher finished with a 9-6 record and was shut down twice to preserve the million-dollar arm.

The Loons actually drew more people in 2011 than they did in 2010.   Which means that the Loons have done a great job in promoting the team and the experience that you have going to Dow Diamond.  Team President Paul Barbeau announced at the end of the season that significant changes were coming to the upper level of Dow Diamond.  A major remodeling will be done over the winter months.   The arrival of the Great Lakes Loons to the region has been a very positive boost for the past five years.  It provides one with 70 days of entertainment


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