Benton Harbor Back in Breslin Spotlight

March 21, 2014

Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Benton Harbor’s players came off the court Friday night to their band playing and fans who had filled most of the horseshoe at the north end of the Breslin Center.

It’s hard to believe the Tigers hadn’t played in an MHSAA Semifinal since 1993. But Benton Harbor basketball is back in a big way – and one win from the school’s first title since 1965.

Led by coach Corey Sterling – who played on that 1993 team – the Tigers continued their longest run in more than a decade with a 69-52 win over Cadillac to earn a spot in Saturday night’s Class B Final.

“What Benton Harbor is known for is basketball,” Tigers senior guard John Robinson, Jr., said. “For us to come back in 2014 and make a run is really big for the community and for the Benton Harbor program.”

Benton Harbor will face either Milan for Detroit Douglass at 6:30 Saturday night.

Sterling is in his second season leading his alma mater, guiding it to a 17-9 record this winter after the Tigers went 17-7 a year ago. That 1993 team was the last to make a championship game as well, where it fell in a heartbreaker 67-64 to Detroit Pershing.

Benton Harbor had won two Regional titles since, the last in 2001. But the Tigers’ reputation as a basketball power has faded only a bit, getting a boost in part during the middle of last decade when Wilson Chandler starred before moving on to DePaul and now the NBA’s Denver Nuggets.

“One thing we try to do is have the guys come in who played back in the day,” Sterling said. “(These players) are aware that the last champion was in 1965. They’re aware that I played here at Breslin in ’93 and lost by three. We remind them that Benton Harbor is a basketball school with a rich tradition. And they’re just really hungry. They don’t want their season to end.”

It took only about a quarter Friday to realize it wouldn’t end until the final day.

Benton Harbor took its first double-digit lead 1:09 into the second quarter and kept it for good over the final 18 minutes. Four players scored in double figures, led by senior forward Cortez Moore with 18 points plus 11 rebounds.

Sophomore forward Jaton Gunn added 13 points and nine rebounds, Robinson had 11 points and sophomore point guard Curtis Dawson had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.

Senior forward Jalen Brooks led Cadillac with 30 points despite constant attention from one or multiple defenders. But the next highest Vikings scorer totaled only five points.

Brooks was the team’s second-leading scorer last season when it fell to Detroit Country Day also in a Semifinal.

“It’s really exciting, especially for our juniors and after what we came off of from football (Cadillac finished 11-1 and won its District),” Brooks said. “That translated to the basketball court. People look at our team, and we’re not the biggest. Most people wouldn’t think we’d get where we’ve gotten. But we have a lot of heart, and I think that has a lot to do with it.”

Both teams entered the postseason unranked. Cadillac finished 19-7, with two losses by two points or fewer.

Five of Benton Harbor’s losses were by three or fewer points, which no doubt has helped as the Tigers have taken down two top-five teams over the last two weeks.

“We might’ve lost nine games this year, but we play in one of the toughest conferences in the state,” Sterling said, referring to the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West. “All our losses built character. So when teams make a run on us, we overcome it. We know how to finish games.”

Click for a full box score and video from the press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Benton Harbor's John Robinson, Jr., brings the ball upcourt during Friday's first Class B Semifinal. (Middle) Cadillac's Jalen Brooks dunks for two of his 30 points.

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Cadillac's Jalen Brooks led all scorers in the Class B Semifinal against Benton Harbor with 30 points. Here he drives the lane for a basket and the foul - a 3-point play! (2) Cortez Moore led Benton Harbor with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Here he scores on a putback.

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.