28-0 Surge Sends GR Catholic Central to Saturday

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

April 8, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS – At first glance, it might seem that the Grand Rapids Catholic Central boys basketball team had a relatively easy time in Thursday’s first Division 2 Semifinal against Ferndale.

It was anything but, and only came to fruition following a dominating fourth quarter that helped push the Cougars to an 81-55 victory over the Panthers at Van Andel Arena.

Catholic Central improved to a perfect 19-0 and will play either Pennfield or Bridgeport on Saturday at Breslin Center.

An up-tempo and competitive game turned into a lopsided ending as the Cougars scored an astounding 28 consecutive points in a span of seven minutes, six seconds from the end of the third quarter until late in the game.

“I thought our defense initiated a bunch of offense for us in that fourth quarter,” Catholic Central coach TJ Meerman said. “We rebounded a lot better, and coming out of half we knew they were going to make a push because that’s what they do. I’m proud of our guys, and our team defense and the way they shared the ball on offense tonight was a special thing.”

Catholic Central trailed 44-42 with 2:31 remaining in the third quarter, but scored the final six points of the quarter and opened the fourth with a 22-0 run.

Torrid outside shooting aided the spurt as the Cougars knocked down five consecutive 3-pointers at one point, including three from junior Jorden Brooks.

“We just came out and played hard in that fourth quarter on both ends,” said Brooks, who scored 14 of his 20 points in the second and was 6 of 11 from beyond the arc.

“I said to myself just keep shooting, and my teammates were setting me up for those 3-point shots.”

Brooks’ hot shooting helped Catholic Central on Monday in an upset of top-ranked Benton Harbor in the Quarterfinals. 

2021 D2 Boys Basketball Semifinal - GRCC

“His play speaks for itself, and he puts in a lot of time in the gym and it’s shown all season,” Meerman said. “He’s been doing this for us all season, and he had a fantastic run on the offensive end, but he made an impact on defense by keeping his guy in front of him.”

Catholic Central, which lost to Benton Harbor in the 2018 Class B Final, held a 35-25 advantage at halftime as sophomore Kaden Brown was the offensive catalyst by scoring 14 of his team-high 23 points. 

Ferndale, however, scored the first eight points of the third quarter to cut into the deficit and eventually grabbed the lead. 

“This team doesn’t get down on themselves,” said junior Jack Karasinski, who recorded 19 points and had five rebounds.

“We took a timeout, regrouped and we kept pushing forward. This is a dream because as a sophomore we got this opportunity taken away from us, and we’ve had the hardest route so far I believe with the teams we’ve gone through. I think it has built our confidence.”

The Cougars also received stellar overall play from freshman guard Durral Brooks, who stuffed the stat sheet with eight points, seven assists, five rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals.

“That’s what he does,” said Jorden Brooks, his older brother. “He’s a good defender, passer and finisher. He can do anything, and it’s crazy that he has three more years left. We just want to go out and hopefully give him his first state championship as a freshman.”

The fourth-ranked Eagles were making their first appearance in the Semifinals since 1985, and were hoping for a chance to win a championship for the first time since 1966.

Instead, they were unable to stop the offensive onslaught by the Cougars in the fourth quarter as they were outscored 33-11.

Ferndale led 44-42 at the start of Catholic Central’s run, then trailed 70-44 with 3:25 to play.

“I thought we did a poor job offensively, and we didn’t get back on defense,” Ferndale coach Juan Rickman said. “Brooks hit four or five threes, and I saw him do that against Benton Harbor. We didn’t execute in our transition defense and didn’t find him.

“The game just got away from us, and we gave up a lot of points to the three guys we wanted to keep from scoring. You never like to lose, so it’s just tough.”

Junior guard Jason Drake scored a game-high 27 points for the Panthers, but was held scoreless over the final eight minutes of the game.

Click for full box score

PHOTOS: (Top) Jack Karasinski dunks two of his 19 points for Grand Rapids Catholic Central on Thursday. (Middle) GRCC's Kaden Brown works to get upcourt. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Ferndale Caps Winter Season with 1st Boys Hoops Title Since 1966

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

March 25, 2023

EAST LANSING – One team was going to end a long championship drought in Saturday’s boys basketball Division 2 Final.

Ferndale’s was especially lengthy, and spanned more than five decades.

And now it is no longer.

The Eagles won their first Finals championship in 57 years with a 44-38 victory over Grand Rapids South Christian at Breslin Center.

Ferndale had last won a state title in 1966.

“The drought is over,” Eagles coach Juan Rickman said. “That’s big time, and the biggest part about making it down here was seeing how charged up the community was and the school was so charged up. It’s the greatest feeling to see how vested our community was in our success.”

Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim.Ferndale senior Christopher Williams led the way with 16 points and four rebounds.

“It feels great,” Williams said. “Especially since the past four years we’ve been to the same place and lost twice in a row to the same team, and now it feels like weight is lifted off my shoulders.

“We started off the season 1-5, and going till now we knew if we stayed together through adversity then we could do it. And it made it more impactful that it was our coach’s first state title, and that’s what we wanted to do.”

Added senior point guard Cameron Reed, who had a game-high seven assists: “It’s incredibly special. I wasn't born back then, my teammates weren’t born and my coaches weren’t born. It definitely rejuvenated the whole city and community.”

Ferndale led 8-4 at the end of the first quarter, and both teams shot poorly in the first half. The Eagles connected on a paltry 24 percent from the field, and South Christian on 35 percent of its attempts. Nate Brinks drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Sailors a 16-14 halftime lead. 

Junior guard Jake Vermaas opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to make it 19-14, but Ferndale made a charge.

The Eagles sliced the deficit to one (25-24) on a 3-pointer by Trenton Ruth, and Cameron Reed tied it at 28-28 with an acrobatic layup.

“Our team was mentally strong, and I’m so proud of them for their accomplishment,” Rickman said. “Just so committed to the process and just being resilient.”

Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.An 8-2 spurt by Ferndale over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter made it 36-30.

“That was extremely important, and we always want to win the first four minutes,” Rickman said. “And we tried to open up the fourth quarter with what we call a kill; we want to get five straight stops and score on two or three of those possessions so we can build a lead. We did that fairly well against a good team.”

South Christian was attempting to win football and basketball Finals championships during the same school year, and was looking for its first basketball title since 2005.

“It was a really hard-fought game and I thought we played at our speed, but it got away from us a little bit,” first-year Sailors coach Taylor Johnson said.

“But it doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year. We’ve been through it all, including three season-ending injuries, and to still make it to the state finals is an incredible feat.”

Senior Jacob DeHaan and Vermaas led the Sailors with 14 points apiece, while senior Sam Medendorp added seven points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Ferndale raises the Division 2 championship trophy Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim. (Below) Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.