EAST LANSING – Lansing Sexton coach Carlton Valentine described Saturday night how every one of his four senior starters fit into a puzzle the last three seasons.
All could star for most teams. But they each contributed a few outstanding skills that together pushed the Big Reds to one of the most dominating runs in MHSAA history.
Together one last time, they combined for a memorable closing performance in the Class B Final at the Breslin Center.
In its third-straight title game appearance, Sexton won its second-straight championship, downing Stevensville-Lakeshore 67-32 in the last game of the winter season.
“Not just winning, but winning with these guys, playing with these guys, is like a blessing,” Sexton senior Anthony Clemmons said. “To have guys around me chasing the same dream as me … I think everybody sacrificed something to win. And to have a winning coach too, you can’t forget him, having him (to) put us through a lot. We deserved it.”
The Big Reds finished 27-1 this season. On its own, that’s impressive enough. But consider:
Sexton’s 74 wins over three seasons is tied for sixth-most in MHSAA history for that long of a stretch.
The Big Reds went undefeated as the only Class B team among all Class As in the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue, arguably the strongest league in the state this season.
They won all of their games by at least eight points, taking down Class A Semifinalist Romulus, highly-ranked Lansing Eastern twice, Class A Quarterfinalist Okemos twice and Class A reigning champion Kalamazoo Central, plus No. 4 Lansing Catholic and No. 3 Detroit Country Day during the postseason.
That only loss was by one, 81-80, to Detroit Pershing. The Doughboys were ranked No. 1 in Class A at the time.
“These guys have endured just so much pressure, being number one all year, being the number one team in the state of Michigan, regardless of class,” Sexton coach Carlton Valentine said.
“This was the number one basketball team in the state of Michigan.”
That the Big Reds would finish tops in Class B was well-established midway through the second quarter. Sexton rattled off 14 straight points and ended the first half on a 20-2 run that made the score 32-10.
And the Big Reds did so with the Iowa-bound Clemmons playing only 11 minutes because of a back injury suffered in the second quarter. Mr. Basketball runner-up Denzel Valentine capped a four-year varsity career with 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. He’ll next suit up for Michigan State. Senior Bryn Forbes, who has signed with Cleveland State, scored a game-high 19 points. Junior forward Jalen Hayes, who has emerged as the team’s star-in-waiting over the last two seasons, had 12 points.
“That’s one of the best high school basketball teams I’ve seen in the state of Michigan,” Lakeshore coach Sean Schroeder said. “For us to compete at a better level tonight, we had to make some shots. When you shoot 23 percent for the ball game, it’s difficult to compete with a team that good.”
Lakeshore (24-3) entered the tournament ranked No. 7 and was playing in its first MHSAA Final.
“I think what I’ll remember about this team the most is we always played tough no matter what game it was. We never gave up today,” Lancers senior Loren Johnson said. “I’ll always remember making it to Breslin, the championship game. And I’ll always remember this loss too. It’s not a good feeling. But I’m glad we made it here.”
Sexton finished its first trip to Breslin of this recent string with a loss to Detroit Country Day in the 2010 Final.
The Big Reds have won four games at MSU since – but will try to come back next season without Denzel Valentine, Clemmons, Forbes and Jeff Cain, those four starters who have played together since elementary school.
“I think we’re pretty good. I don’t know about the greatest ever. But we put a lot of hard work in,” Forbes said. “These guys have been grinding ever since I met them, 11 years ago. But yeah, I think we’ll go down as one of the greatest.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Sexton players pose for photos after receiving their medals and trophy for winning the Class B championship. (Middle) Big Reds freshman Trevor Manuel slammed down two of his five points. (Bottom) Bryn Forbes led Sexton with 19 points, including two on this dunk. (See more at Terry McNamara Photography.)