Beecher Seniors Lead 3-Peat Attempt

March 23, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – The day after Flint Beecher won the Class C boys basketball championship in 2013, coach Mike Williams went to watch an eighth-grade game.

He saw Levane Blake get a steal and a dunk, Malik Ellison pull up for a 3-pointer. “I just remember seeing the chemistry between them,” Williams said. “And I thought to myself, I think we’ll be going back down to Lansing a few more times.”

Now seniors, Blake, Ellison and Jordan Roland have a chance to finish their Beecher careers among the most successful players in the program’s storied history.

The Bucs have won seven MHSAA titles, and those three captains have been part of two straight – and earned an opportunity to three-peat with a 76-68 victory over Detroit Edison Public School Academy in Thursday’s first Semifinal at the Breslin Center.

“We feel more poised this year. It’s our senior year, and we want to go out with a bang,” Roland said.

“It’s our senior year, and I won’t be able to wear this jersey anymore,” Blake added, “or play on the court with my team, or lead the young guys. So we work every day in practice, go hard, hard, hard, and Coach Mike pushes us.”

Beecher (22-5) will play Grand Rapids Covenant Christian in Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. Final. The Bucs not only have won the last two Class C titles, but four of the last five.

After watching these seniors star as eighth graders that day in 2013, Williams knew they’d be on varsity as freshmen. Ellison, Roland and Blake all joined the varsity that next winter; Ellison and Blake started as sophomores in the 2015 championship win, and all three started in last year’s title game.

Ellison scored a game-high 28 points and added seven rebounds and seven assists Thursday, while Roland and Blake both scored 10 points, Roland also grabbing seven rebounds and the 6-foot-7 Blake blocking six shots.

Edison (14-12), in its first Semifinal after winning its first Regional title last week, fought back-and-forth for the lead through the first five minutes of the second quarter until Beecher took a one-point lead on a Roland bucket with 3:17 to go in the first half, and never gave up the advantage again.

“We know Malik is a tough little guard, and I think the thing you never can put a hand on is a guy coming up here playing in three state championships games,” DEPSA coach Brandon Neely said. “I think the advantage he had is he just understood how the game would go. … You know that those guys are never going to get rattled. They’ve been in so many wars that when they come to battle, they’re just loose; it’s just another game for them."

Senior guard Jamal Keesee led the Pioneers with 21 points and 12 rebounds, while junior center Deante Johnson had 17 points and nine rebounds. Junior guard Gary Solomon added 15 points, six rebounds and four assists, and junior guard Pierre Mitchell, Jr., had 10 points and also six rebounds and four assists.

Beecher freshman guard Jalen Terry had 15 points as his team’s second-leading scorer, something that spoke to what Williams has emphasized to his successful seniors this winter. He put it on them to play major roles in bringing along the next generation, to work at both continuing the Bucs’ legacy and setting it up for the future as well, just as others did to assist them at the start of their careers.

“I’m just going to go out there and play hard for them,” Terry said. “They gave me everything they’ve got. I’m going to give them everything I’ve got.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Beecher’s Malik Ellison drives hard to the basket during Thursday’s first Class C Semifinal. (Middle) The Bucs score two more on the way to earning their third straight championship game berth.

South Christian Sails Into Latest Challenge, Earns Saturday Return

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 24, 2023

EAST LANSING – The Grand Rapids South Christian boys basketball team faced adversity when it lost standout sophomore Carson Vis to season-ending injuries in last week’s Regional Final.

The Sailors faced a different kind of adversity Friday in a Division 2 Semifinal, as they were tested for the first time since late January.

South Christian responded, and showed a steely resolve that put the team one step closer to a championship following a 40-35 overtime win over Romulus Summit Academy North at Breslin Center.

The Sailors will play Ferndale in Saturday’s Division 2 Final.

“We talk about adversity all the time, and we’re missing our 20 points a game star player, and so we’ve had some throughout the season,” South Christian coach Taylor Johnson said. “It builds character.”

Summit’s Dontez Scott Jr. works to get past the Sailors’ Nate Brinks.

South Christian had won 15 games in a row entering Friday, all by double digits. Summit gave the Sailors their closest game since losing to Grand Rapids Catholic Central on Jan. 24. 

“We’ve been on a run here, and even as a coach, I feel like I haven’t done enough because we haven’t been in these situations,” Johnson said. “What a battle, and that’s what it’s all about. Two great teams with a lot of great players, and we found a way.”

Senior Jake DeHaan, who led the Sailors with 14 points, said he embraces playing in these types of games.

“This is what our team talks about, adversity, and we want to play in the biggest moments,” DeHaan said. “As a competitor, that's what you want to do. You want to play on the biggest stage against the best teams, and that's what we like to do.”

In a defensive struggle with points hard to come by, the Sailors maintained the lead throughout.

The Sailors took a 19-13 advantage into the half, but the Dragons rallied and cut the deficit to 23-21 with a minute left in the third quarter.

Summit’s Dominic Krzesowiak drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to knot the score at 31-31 with 30 seconds remaining in regulation.

In overtime, Nate Brinks buried a 3-pointer for South Christian after Summit took its only lead of the game.

Junior Jake Vermaas, who finished with 12 points, then made 6 of 6 from the free throw line to keep Summit at bay.

“I just kept dribbling with my head up and knocking down free throws when we needed them,” Vermaas said. “Staying focused and locked in, and I think that’s a credit to being on a big stage like this in football and being comfortable.”

The Sailors, who won the Division 4 football championship in November, will search for their first basketball Finals title since 2005.

Summit Academy (25-3), which shot 35 percent (16-46) from the field, was playing in its first Semifinal.

“We expected it to be a defensive game and every possession to be tough,” Summit coach Mark White said. “We expected to be challenged to execute and to challenge them to execute.

“We knew it would come down to who executed the best and took advantage of their opportunities. We came to battle, and I’m very proud of our team and our program that we made it this far.”

James White led Summit with 13 points and seven rebounds. Krzesowiak finished with six points and six rebounds.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) South Christian’s Jake Vermaas (0) makes a move toward the basket during his team’s Division 2 Semifinal win. (Middle) Summit’s Dontez Scott Jr. works to get past the Sailors’ Nate Brinks.