EAST LANSING – The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team fell short last season in its bid to add another state championship to its storied history.
Senior point guard Brady Titus wasn’t about to let history repeat itself.
Titus scored a game-high 33 points to propel the Defenders to a thrilling 56-45 overtime win over Ewen-Trout Creek in Saturday’s Division 4 Final at the Breslin Center.
“There was so much motivation, just coming up short last year,” Titus said. “Just knowing that we lost to a team that we could’ve beat really carried on into this year, and there’s a great sense of relief knowing that we really did this as a team.
“I’m more than thankful, and it’s hard to describe how I feel right now other than a lot of excitement.”
The Defenders (20-6) lost to Detroit Douglass a year ago, 46-41, but gained redemption by outscoring the Panthers 13-2 in overtime Saturday.
Tri-unity captured its fifth Final, but first since 2011 under longtime coach Mark Keeler, who watched his team struggle in the second quarter after a strong start.
The Defenders led 16-11 after the first quarter, but Ewen-Trout Creek opened the second with an 11-1 surge to snare a 22-17 lead.
The Defenders countered with a 6-0 run to hold a slim 23-22 advantage, but Ewen-Trout Creek ended the half with seven straight points.
A 3-pointer from Eric Abramson at the buzzer gave the Panthers a 30-23 lead at the half.
“I was proud of my guys because we didn’t quit or get discouraged after that buzzer 3-pointer at the end of the first half,” said Keeler, who was appearing in his 10th Final. “Ewen-Trout Creek was gutty and tough, and they dominated the boards in the first half.”
Titus, who will play in college at Indiana Tech, scored 23 of his points in the second half and overtime after being held to 10 points in the first half.
He was poked in the eye inadvertently early in the third quarter, and it fueled his play.
“It was an accident for sure, but me being the person I am I took it personally,” Titus said. “That really fired me up to just go out there and play and compete.”
Titus stepped up several times when his team needed him during the second-half rally.
His driving lay-up with 33 seconds left knotted the score at 43-43 and sent the game to overtime after the Defenders got a defensive stop in the closing seconds.
“He does it so often,” Keeler said of Titus’ heroics. “He’s just an amazing young man, and he made plays for us.”
Tri-unity turned to its defense in overtime to help secure the win.
Sophomore Owen Rosendall, who made three 3-pointers and finished with nine points, had a steal and took a defensive charge, while junior center Hanif James had a huge blocked shot with the Defenders clinging to a 47-45 lead in the final minute. He then scored inside on an assist from Titus.
“I don’t really go for blocks because I try to keep my hands up as straight as possible,” said James, who had seven points and seven rebounds. “If I see it, I go for it, and then Brady has great vision and I know he’ll find me when I’m open.”
Ewen-Trout Creek (22-3) was playing for its first Finals title since 1972.
The Panthers also finished Class D runner-up in 1982, losing to Covert 105-94.
“Overtime losses are always tough, but an overtime loss in a state championship game is something else,” Ewen-Trout Creek coach Brad Besonen said. “The fight and the grind these guys bring to the court every night showed tonight in front of a big audience on a big stage in one of the biggest games we can have as a high school team. I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”
Jaden Borseth finished with 16 points and eight rebounds to lead the Panthers, while Brendan Polkky had 14 points and Abramson added 12.
PHOTOS (Top) Tri-unity’s Hanif James (34) gets a hand on a shot attempt by Ewen-Trout Creek’s Jaden Borseth. (Middle) The Defenders’ Ethan Eerdmans (10) works to get past Ewen-Trout Creek’s Jonah Nordine. (Below) Tri-unity coach Mark Keeler raises the championship trophy toward his team Saturday. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)