Bates, Lincoln Land in 1st Hoops Final

March 15, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Emoni Bates was here to help, he told his teammates before beginning his freshman year at Ypsilanti Lincoln in the fall.

That’s one very understated way to put what the nationally-renowned freshman has meant to the Railsplitters during their most successful season.

Bates, and Lincoln, played in their first MHSAA Semifinal on Friday, and the 6-foot-10 phenom showed as expected – he flashed skill and poise and brought roars with a pair of dunks, including one from a pass off the backboard.

And Lincoln continued to perform as he expected when he joined an otherwise veteran lineup, making an incredible 57 percent of its shots from the floor in a 72-56 win over Howell to earn a berth in Saturday’s Division 1 championship game.

“My teammates … when I told them I was coming (to Lincoln), I told them I was just helping them, and I told them if we just keep working hard every day we’d be here,” Bates said. “I just knew I trusted them. I trust them, and they trust me, and that’s how we got here.”

Lincoln (22-4) will play for its first championship against Detroit U-D Jesuit at 12:15 p.m. Saturday.   

Playing on the Breslin Center floor for the first time, in front of a mostly full lower bowl, has derailed many an MHSAA championship hopeful.

But there might not be a player, and team, in recent memory that has been more prepared for a trip to East Lansing than Bates and Lincoln.

Buzz around the nationally-renowned freshman started high this winter and has only continued to grow as he’s keyed the Railsplitters’ run to its first Regional title, then Semifinals and now championship game.

He had 31 points – on 55 percent shooting – and 14 rebounds against Howell, and his teammates followed suit showing no effects from the big-arena atmosphere by sinking 59 percent of their shots.

“It was just fun. We battled all game, he’s taller than me and was shooting over my head, and I couldn’t really do anything about it,” said Howell senior Josh Palo, an all-state honorable mention last season and one of those charged with defending Bates on Friday. “I was definitely looking forward to guarding him. Our game plan was making him take tough shots. He was knocking them down. We couldn’t do anything about it.”

Bates’ first basket was a 3-pointer with 3:52 left in the first quarter that made the score 10-4. The Railsplitters never led by fewer than six points the rest of the way.

Senior forward Amari Frye added 12 points while making half his shots from the floor, and senior guard Tahj Chatman made all four of his shots from the floor for 10 points to go with four assists.   

“I’ve been on varsity four years, and the added pressure, I tell him all the time to put the pressure he gets and put it on me,” Chatman said. “I feel we’re here for him. We all embrace him. There’s no jealousy or none of that. We embrace him all the way.”

Lincoln starts four seniors with Bates, and after going 10-11 in coach Jesse Davis’ first season three seasons ago posted back-to-back winning records before breaking through this winter.

“I envisioned everything that we’re doing right now,” Davis said. “We just worked toward it. Of course I need these guys learning it, (buying in) to what I’m saying and what I’m doing and what I’m teaching them. But yes, I envisioned this for the program.”

Howell (20-7) took a similar step with its program this winter, with Friday’s Semifinal the team’s first since 1927. The Highlanders first won their third straight District title and finished with their highest win total of Howell coach Nick Simon’s seven seasons leading the program.

Palo, one of four seniors in the starting lineup, had 16 points in his final high school game. Junior guard Tony Honkala had 12 points off the bench, and senior forward Jake Sargeant had 11 points and six rebounds for the Highlanders.

“Our guys believed in this for a long time,” Simon said. “It’s not just something that’s happened at the end of the year.

“I knew we could do it, and they knew we could do it all year. We went through tough battles, went against tough opponents in the playoffs, and we were used to that tough competition. We respected them, but we were not fearful at all.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ypsilanti Lincoln’s Emoni Bates throws down one of his two dunks during Friday’s Division 1 Semifinal. (Middle) Howell players work to break up a pass.

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

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.