When Portland St. Patrick hosts Pewamo-Westphalia tonight in girls basketball, first place in the CMAC will be on the line.
For longtime observers of area basketball, this almost goes without saying.
In the last 20 years, P-W has won 14 league titles, St. Pats has won 11, and the two have shared it six times. Last season, when Laingsburg and Carson City-Crystal shared the league crown, was the first since 1986 that neither the Pirates nor the Shamrocks claimed at least a share of the title.
That was the first season that longtime St. Pats coach Al Schrauben took the helm of the program, but Schrauben said that the battle between the two teams was already strong.
“We were a good program before I took over,” Schrauben said. “Tony Trierweiler had them, and even back then, it was them and P-W. It probably goes all the way back to when we started girls’ basketball.”
P-W finished runner-up in Class C in 1983 and 1984, as did St. Pats in Class D 1978. Schrauben has since led the Shamrocks to 10 appearances in the Class D state finals and guided them as far as a state semifinal last season. He has come away with six state championships, but St. Pats is seeking its first league title since 2008, which was shared with the Pirates.
While that success, the virtually annual battle for league supremacy spanning decades and the geographical proximity of the two schools might add a tinge of bitterness to the rivalry, P-W coach Steve Eklund said that there is nothing but respect between the two programs.
“We’ve watched St. Pats make those deep (state tournament) runs, and that’s part of what’s driven us this year,” Eklund said. “This has probably been my hardest-working group of kids in the off-season, and I think their success drives us. At the same time, our success in the conference recently has probably driven them.”
Tonight, the Shamrocks (12-1 overall, 9-1 CMAC) will look to avenge their only loss of the season, a 51-42 defeat at P-W (11-2, 10-0) back on Dec. 11. After losing its first two games of the season, P-W has reeled off 12 straight wins. While both teams will have four league games after tonight, this one will likely decide whether P-W wins the league title outright, or St. Pats claims a share.