Boys Finals: Your Dose of C and D

March 21, 2012

One thing is certain to happen this weekend at the often-unpredictable MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals:

We will have a first-time Class D champion. And there's a decent chance the Class C champion could feel like a first-timer as well.

All four Class D Semifinalists will be playing today for a first championship game berth. Only Traverse City St. Francis among Class C Semifinalists has never made a championship game -- but Flint Beecher is seeking its first MHSAA title since 1987, and Shelby its first since 1972.

Not that Schoolcraft is out of sight, out of mind. The Eagles are back at the Breslin Center to defend their Class C title, and with an all-stater to lead the way. 

Below is a schedule for today's Semifinals and all four Saturday Finals. Tickets cost $8 per session, and parking at Michigan State is $5. All Semifinals will be streamed live at along with the press conferences after each, and the C and D Finals both will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit. Click for scores as they come in, and return to Second Half for coverage of all 12 games this weekend at Breslin.

Today's Semifinals
Class C

Flint Beecher (26-0) vs. Schoolcraft (22-4) - 1 p.m.
Traverse City St. Francis (24-2) vs Shelby (24-2) - 2:50 p.m.
Class D

Muskegon Catholic Central (17-9) vs. Southfield Christian (22-2) - 6 p.m.
Climax-Scotts (25-1) vs. Carney-Nadeau (23-2) - 7:50 p.m.

Saturday's Finals
Class A - 4 p.m.
Class B - 8 p.m.
Class C - Noon
Class D - 10 a.m.

Now, a look at this season's Class C and D Semifinalists (Click for glances at Class A and B Semifinalists.):

Class C

26-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Blue
Coach: Mike Williams, eighth season (137-61)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recently Class B in 1987), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 63-49 over No. 4 Madison Heights Madison (Regional Semifinal), 38-36 (OT) over No. 3 Detroit Consortium (Regional Final), 59-55 over honorable mention River Rouge (Quarterfinal).
Players to watch: Monte Morris (6-3 jr. G – 18.3 ppg, 6.4 apg, 5.4 rpg, 3.5 spg), Antuan Burks (5-9 sr. G – 12.6 ppg, 34 3-pointers).
Outlook: This is the third straight season Beecher has made it to the Semifinals – last season the Buccaneers lost in overtime to eventual runner-up McBain. But this might be the season they break through led by Morris, the Class C Player of the Year by The Associated Press for the second straight season.

22-4, honorable mention
League finish: Second in Kalamazoo Valley Association
Coach: Randy Small, eighth season (161-34)
Championship history: One MHSAA title (2011), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 55-52 over No. 2 Pewamo-Westphalia (Quarterfinal), 65-52 over honorable mention Bloomingdale (Regional Final), 68-58 over Olivet.
Player to watch: Luke Ryskamp (6-3 jr. F – 23.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg).
Outlook: A team with seven seniors including all-stater Ryskamp will try to defend its 2011 championship. Senior Bryan Jones, a 6-2 forward, also started in last season’s Class C Final. Schoolcraft avenged two of its losses during the District tournament, and can extend a solid run by Small that has included six league titles in eight seasons and three Regional titles over the last four.

24-2, No. 8
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference
Coach: Rick Zoulek, 27th season (385-221)
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recently 1972), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 60-41 over honorable mention New Haven (Quarterfinal), 69-59 over North Muskegon.
Players to watch: David Beckman, Jr. (6-3 sr. F – 13.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg), Lucas Landis (6-4 sr. F – 12.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg).
Outlook: Shelby is big in the frontcourt with Beckman and Landis getting additional help from 6-5 senior center Jeremiah James (11.3 ppg). Guards Cody Stotler and Kody Plummer round out an all-senior starting line-up that has Shelby back in the conversation among Class C’s best. Total, the team boasts eight seniors. Its only losses were to North Muskegon and Class B Semifinalist Muskegon Heights.

24-2, No. 5
League finish: First in Lake Michigan Conference
Coach: Keith Haske, second season (39-9)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 67-42 over Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, 68-52 over No. 7 Clare (Regional Final), 71-60 over honorable mention Negaunee (Quarterfinal).
Players to watch: Sean Sheldon (6-9 sr. F – 21 ppg, 11 rpg), Devin Sheehy (5-11 sr. G – 12 ppg, 7.0 apg, 5.0 spg).
Outlook: Haske has St. Francis at Breslin Center after bringing Charlevoix to the Finals multiple times. Sheldon, an all-stater, is one of two 6-9 players on the team and one of three 6-4 or taller in the main rotation. The Gladiators have mauled their postseason competition so far by an average margin of 24.8 points per game.

Class D

23-2, honorable mention
League finish: First in Skyline and Central Upper Peninsula conferences
Coach: Jacob Polfus, fourth season (60-30)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 57-51 over No. 7 Munising (Regional Final), 72-56 over No. 2 Pellston (Quarterfinal).
Players to watch: Lucas Moreau (5-10 sr. G – 18.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.9 apg), Wade Schetter (5-10 jr. G – 18.9 ppg, 3.8 apg, 5.0 spg).
Outlook: Carney-Nadeau is led by high-scoring guards Moreau and Schetter, who have scored nearly 60 percent of the team’s points this season. Sophomore guard Keenan Lampinen adds 10.4 more points per game for a team boasting only one starter that stands even 6-1. That hasn’t seemed to matter much during a 20-game winning streak, which included wins over the two opponents who beat the Wolves early.

25-1, No. 5
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association
Coach: Steve Critchlow, first season (25-1)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 54-49 over honorable mention North Adams-Jerome, 50-39 over Allen Park Inter-City Baptist (Quarterfinal).
Players to watch: Malachi Satterlee (6-7 jr. F – 18.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.3 bpg), Aaron Cook (6-7 jr. F – 10 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg).
Outlook: Satterlee was named all-state earlier this week and keys a towering frontcourt that also gets 9.5 points per game from 6-2 forward Jacob Hinga. Climax-Scotts hasn’t faced a team ranked in the top 10 of the state polls at the end of the regular season, but dominated its competition – its lone loss was by four to Kalamazoo Phoenix, and since the Panthers have won 11 of 12 games by double figures.

17-9, unranked
League finish: Fourth in River Valley Conference
Coach: David Ingles, second season (32-19)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 48-43 over No. 10 Fulton-Middleton (Regional Final), 61-50 over No. 4 Bellaire (Quarterfinal).
Players to watch: Jason Ribecky (6-4 sr. C – 19.1 ppg), Cari Campbell (6-3 jr. F – 11.4 ppg).
Outlook: Ribecky earned an all-state honorable mention earlier this week and has put the team on his shoulders during the tournament run – the Crusaders have beaten every playoff opponent by double figures except reigning runner-up Fulton. This is the longest run by Muskegon Catholic since it won its Class C Regional in 1999.

22-2, tied for No. 7
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference
Coach: Josh Baker, first season (22-2)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 78-77 over Belleville, 70-57 and 67-64 over Allen Park Inter-City Baptist, 98-84 over honorable mention Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (Quarterfinal).
Players to watch: Gavin Toma (6-2 sr. G – 19.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Chris Dewberry (6-2 sr. G – 16.2 ppg, 4.4 apg), Lindsey Hunter III (6-1 sr. G – 15.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.0 apg), Lindsey Hunter IV (5-11 soph. G – 11.9 ppg).
Outlook: Southfield Christian’s record is especially impressive considering the number of much larger schools it faced this season – the losses came to Class A power Southfield (by two points) and Class B Semifinalist Detroit Country Day. All four postseason wins have come by double figures (Southfield Christian also won one by forfeit.) The Hunters III and IV are the sons of the former Detroit Pistons guard by the same name.

PHOTO: Flint Beecher's Monte Morris had 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in his team's 70-66 Semifinal loss to McBain in last season's Class C Semifinal. He's back to lead Beecher again today.

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)