EAST LANSING – The Grand Rapids Catholic Central boys basketball team was heartbroken when it lost in overtime by a single point to Benton Harbor in the 2018 Class B Final.
A second-half push Saturday guaranteed there wouldn't be any stressful final moments this time around at Breslin Center.
The Cougars secured the program’s first MHSAA Finals championship with a 77-54 win over Battle Creek Pennfield in the season's closing game, the Division 2 finale.
Catholic Central finished 20-0 and erased the disappointing memories of three years ago.
“A lot of guys from that (2018) team sent us a lot of messages over the last couple days about finishing what they started,” Cougars coach T.J. Meerman said. “So that was our mission tonight.”
Former Catholic Central star and current Michigan State player Marcus Bingham was in attendance to root his alma mater on.
“This is amazing,” said junior Jack Karasinski, who scored 18 points as one of four Cougars scoring in double figures.
“To see Marcus, and how it ended for him, we just wanted to get it done for our guys. I want to give praise to our coach. Sometimes I don’t think he sleeps. He walks in with an energy drink every day, so he wanted this one bad. I’m glad we got it done for him.”
Sophomore Kaden Brown sparked the Cougars and finished with a game-high 25 points. Freshman Durral Brooks had 10 points and 11 rebounds, while junior Jorden Brooks chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds.
“I love my guys and the coaches and it feels great to be able to come out and finish the season like this,” Brown said. “This was our goal from the start, and it feels great to come out and finish it how we wanted.”
An entertaining first half included seven lead changes and seven ties.
The score was 13-13 at the end of the first quarter, and a pair of free throws from Pennfield’s Aiden Burns with one second left in the second quarter knotted the game again at 31-31.
The Panthers took a 34-33 lead before Catholic Central used its trademark spurt to retake the lead and pull away.
Over a span of four minutes, the Cougars went on a 14-2 run and snared a 48-36 lead they never relinquished.
“I thought our guys bounced back in the second half with a lot of energy and a lot of fight,” Meerman said. “We were able to outlast them, and that’s been our motto all year. Defend, rebound and run, and that took over in the second half for us.”
Pennfield coach Nate Burns, whose team was making its first trip to the Finals, was mindful of Catholic Central’s ability to score in bunches quickly.
“Looking at film on them, they live off of their spurts,” Burns said. “And we knew coming in that we had to try and limit the damage of those spurts. They just happen so fast, and we thought we could withstand it, but then all of a sudden they are up by 10 and you try to regroup and they come with another wave.
“They have been doing that to everyone all year and we were hoping to be the exception tonight, but they got us.”
Junior guard Luke Davis helped the Panthers (21-3) stay close in the first half and finished with 17 points and four assists.
Senior Ryne Petersen added 11 points, and Aiden Burns had nine points and four rebounds.
“This group, led by our three captains, did everything they needed to do this season,” Nate Burns said. “This is the best team in school history.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Durral Brooks (10, with ball) works into the lane with Pennfield’s Aiden Burns (10), Shawn Gardner (24) and Ryne Petersen (23) defending. (Middle) The Panthers’ Gavin Liggett (3) gets a hand up on a shot by Catholic Central’s Jorden Brooks (23). Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)