By Jim Newell
The intense focus, the unmistakable metal ping – followed by cheers from one side and groans from the other – is the sound of another ringer on the horseshoe pits.
For Doug Bailey of Clarkston and Ron Price of Lake Orion, both of the Lake Orion Horseshoe Club, the path to winning the Class B state doubles horseshoes title came down to a three-way playoff.
Lake Orion hosted the Michigan Horseshoe Pitchers Association state doubles tournament on Saturday, with nine Orion horseshoe pitchers competing. Twenty-two, two-person teams competed in the state sanctioned tournament, featuring competitors from throughout Michigan.
Bailey and Price were in a three-way tie at 4-1 heading into the playoffs, their only loss coming by one point. The top team (determined by ringer percentage) got a bye round as the other two teams – including Bailey and Price – squared off.
The Lake Orion duo prevailed 78-76 on fifty horseshoes in the first playoff, then dominated the top-seeded team, pulling out a 71-52 victory and finishing with a 6-1 record.
“These guys were throwing ringer after ringer. It was a nail-bitter right until the end,” Price said of the two-match playoff.
“This is usually a fairly popular event,” said Bailey, adding the doubles tournament usually ranges between 22-32 teams, depending on how many people qualify.
Bailey, vice-president of the Lake Orion Horseshoe Club, said the Orion group has 50 members. And while pitchers must be cardholders with the Michigan Horseshoe Pitchers Association to play in state tournaments, many in the Orion group come out to play just for fun.
J.D. Drake and Dan Markley were tournament champions, finishing first in Class A.
The Michigan Horseshoes Pitchers Association State Championship Singles Tournament is Sept. 1-4 in Jackson. Price, the president of the Lake Orion club, said six pitchers from the club will attend the tournament.
In doubles play, pitchers pick partners and then the teams are put into a class based on combined ringer percentage. Groups of teams compete in a round-robin format. The team in the highest class – those teams with the highest ringer percentage – that wins their group is declared the tournament champion.
“The Lake Orion Horseshoe Club does a fantastic job of running this tournament,” said Roger Higgins, secretary-treasurer of the MHPA and regional director of the NHPA. “Ron and Doug do a fantastic job of putting this together and getting the courts set up.”
Zach Spanke, a 2011 state doubles champ with Bailey, said pitching horseshoes competitively isn’t as easy as people would think. There are different grips and styles and competitors want to win.
“To me, it’s a mental game,” he said, adding that what makes it special is “The competition, the friendships and the enjoyment of the people.”
While Price and Bailey were preparing the horseshoe courts, Pat Bailey and Dawn Price held the daunting task – and greatly appreciated among the competitors and guests – of arranging the lunch tent.
“They’re the real champions here,” Ron Price said.
The Lake Orion Horseshoe Club was established in 1960 and is Michigan’s oldest horseshoe club. Anyone interested in joining the Lake Orion pitchers can visit the club website at pitchwithus.com/lake_orion/.