The magic number is down to "3" to earn a trip to East Lansing as Michigan's remaining 128 high school boys basketball teams pull closer to reaching the season's final weekend at Michigan State's Breslin Center.
Rematches won by the team that lost the first time (or two) headlined our District Finals from Friday, and a number of rematches are possible again this week with several highlighted below. Check out “Tracking the Tournament” on MHSAA.com for every matchup from all brackets.
“Breslin Bound” is powered by MI Student Aid.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Detroit Cass Tech 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 54 (OT) The Technicians (19-3) avenged a 56-51 loss to King (19-3) from Jan. 21 that ended up deciding the Detroit Public School League Blue title.
2. Grand Rapids Catholic Central 68, Hudsonville Unity Christian 48 The reigning Division 2 champion Cougars (21-1) handed Unity Christian (21-1) its only loss of the season.
3. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 63, Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 40 The Eaglets (18-4) had lost to Brother Rice (15-7) by two and 12 during the regular season.
4. Michigan Center 63, Napoleon 47 The Cardinals (17-6) had finished third in the Cascades Conference but defeated champion Vandercook Lake and then runner-up Napoleon (19-3) to claim a Division 3 District title.
5. Grandville Calvin Christian 61, Grand Rapids Covenant Christian 55 The Squires (19-3) avenged a 68-61 overtime loss to the rival Chargers (17-4) from Dec. 17 – Calvin’s last defeat this season.
Regionals at a Glance
These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:
Detroit U-D Jesuit (16-5) vs. Hamtramck (19-3), North Farmington (18-3) vs. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (18-4)
To say this Regional is loaded is an understatement. Jesuit was No. 1 in final Division 1 MPR, St. Mary’s was No. 2, Hamtramck No. 9 and North Farmington No. 13. Jesuit won its first two meetings with St. Mary’s this season, but the Eaglets won the most recent 65-43 in the Detroit Catholic League Bishop Tournament. Hamtramck hasn’t lost since Jan. 15, with a pair of wins over River Rouge (17-4) highlighting its run. North Farmington’s losses came to opponents that all won 15 or more games, and the Raiders avenged the most recent by defeating Oak Park 45-36 in a regular-season finale. For common opponent purposes, Oak Park fell to Jesuit in their District Final by just a point.
Muskegon (20-2) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (22-1), Holland West Ottawa (11-12) vs. Wyoming (15-7)
Tonight’s Regional Semifinals feature a titanic matchup between Ottawa-Kent Conference champions as Green title winner Muskegon takes on White title winner Northview. The Wildcats’ only loss was in their second meeting against Grand Rapids Christian (18-4), while Muskegon has lost only to Kalamazoo Central (14-7) and Ferndale (18-3) – and all three of those opponents also have gone on to win District titles. The Big Reds were ranked No. 10 in final Division 1 MPR. West Ottawa lost five straight to end the regular season before reversing course with a District title run, and Wyoming finished second to Muskegon in the Green and also faced Northview this season.
Lincoln Park (16-6) vs. Brownstown Woodhaven (18-4), Dearborn (17-5) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (19-3)
Cass Tech’s District Final win continued a run of 10 victories over its last 11 games, and the Technicians last week actually avenged two of their regular-season losses by also defeating Detroit Western in a District Semifinal. They next face a District full of similarly hungry programs looking to take a big step. Woodhaven won the Downriver League and Lincoln Park was second despite Lincoln Park winning both of their regular-season meetings. Lincoln Park was 3-12 just a season ago, and Woodhaven is riding high with eight wins over its last nine games and all by double digits. Dearborn has taken a couple of nice steps the last few seasons, and three of its losses were to Kensington Lakes Activities Association East champ Belleville (16-6) as the Pioneers finished second this winter.
Flint Powers Catholic
Richmond (19-3) vs. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (15-7), Croswell-Lexington (22-0) vs. Goodrich (18-4)
Crowell-Lexington is a combined 61-3 over the last three seasons, with COVID-19 ending its 2020 run and an overtime Quarterfinal loss finishing 2021. The Pioneers were first again in the Blue Water Area Conference and Richmond second, but Croswell-Lexington won the second meeting Feb. 22 only 56-54. To set up a third, the Pioneers will have to get by another league champion in the Flint Metro League Stars’ Goodrich, which avenged a late loss to Lake Fenton by defeating the Blue Devils by 11 in their District Final. Richmond takes on Notre Dame Prep, which also had a bit of a rough end to the regular season – facing some of the state’s top teams with a loss to Goodrich during that stretch – but the Fighting Irish came back to edge Warren Michigan Collegiate (15-5) by a point in their District Final.
Benton Harbor (20-2) vs. Holland Christian (15-7), Edwardsburg (15-7) vs. Parchment (20-1)
On opposite sides of this bracket sit No. 5 Parchment and No. 8 Benton Harbor, Parchment seeking its first Regional title since 2000 and Benton Harbor its first since 2018 when it went on to win the Class B championship. Parchment’s only defeat was to Schoolcraft (20-2), while Benton Harbor lost only to Muskegon (see above) and Detroit Edison (16-6) – all three of those opponents are still playing this week. Parchment first must get past Edwardsburg, also a league champion. Benton Harbor opens with Holland Christian, which tied for second in a power-packed O-K Blue and suffered all of its losses to opponents that won 16 or more games this winter.
Marshall (20-2) vs. Lansing Catholic (13-10), Williamston (22-0) vs. Onsted (22-0)
Unbeatens Onsted and Williamston make for one of tonight’s premier matchups, in any division, with Williamston playing only one single-digit game this season and Onsted only three. Williamston last won a Regional title in 2018, and Onsted is seeking its first since 1983. On the other side, Marshall shared the title in an Interstate 8 Athletic Conference that produced four teams that won at least 14 games. Lansing Catholic defeated Division 1 Holt on the way into the playoffs and then the two teams that finished ahead of the Cougars in the Capital Area Activities Conference White – champion Ionia and runner-up Lansing Sexton – on the way to the District title.
Lawton (15-7) vs. Schoolcraft (20-2), Watervliet (18-3) vs. Bronson (13-9)
Schoolcraft and Watervliet both shared Southwestern Athletic Conference divisional titles but haven’t seen each other this season, although they have three mutual opponents. Schoolcraft hasn’t lost since Dec. 28, including handing Parchment (see above) its only defeat. The Eagles open with Lawton, which finished third in Watervliet’s SAC Lakeshore division. Watervliet faces Bronson, which finished fifth in a competitive Big 8 Conference and is riding an eight-game winning streak.
Hemlock (15-7) vs. Flint Beecher (19-2), Bad Axe (20-2) vs. Marlette (12-11)
Reigning Division 3 champion Beecher has been a favorite to repeat all season, ranked No. 2 in final Division 3 MPR and with its only losses to Division 1 Grand Blanc (17-5) and Detroit Martin Luther King (19-3). The Bucs are coming off a 31-point win over Reese (18-3) in their District Final. Hemlock has seven losses, but six of them were by a combined 17 points – or just under three per defeat – and they avenged one with an 18-point win over Ithaca in last week’s District Final. On the other side, Bad Axe will see Marlette for the second time in two weeks after winning the first meeting by 18. The Hatchets’ only losses were to Reese.
Sault Ste. Marie
Ishpeming Westwood (17-4) vs. Menominee (19-3), Harbor Springs (10-11) vs. Benzie Central (19-3)
Menominee entered the postseason as the No. 1 team in overall Division 3 MPR with its losses to teams that have at least 18 wins and are still alive in their respective divisions. The Maroons actually defeated Escanaba (18-4) twice to finish first in the Great Northern Conference before losing their third meeting, and they are seeking their first Regional title since 2008. Westwood also is a league champion, from the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference East, and is seeking its first Regional title since 2016. Benzie, winner of the Northwest Conference, is seeking its first Regional title since 1997 after emerging from one of the strongest Division 3 Districts in the state, with Harbor Springs one of the surprise District champs after upsets of St. Ignace (15-6) and East Jordan (13-9) last week.
Lake Leelanau St. Mary (18-4) vs. Ellsworth (19-3), Frankfort (11-11) vs. McBain Northern Michigan Christian (22-0)
Ellsworth is seeking its first Regional title since 2009, NMC its first since 2003 and St. Mary its first since 1950. Frankfort has more recent history playing in the late stages of this tournament, finishing Division 4 runner-up in 2019. The Panthers represent the strong Northwest Conference won by Benzie Central (see above), but NMC did win their Feb. 26 meeting 61-49 and claimed the title in a similarly Division 3-heavy Highland Conference. Ellsworth won the Northern Lakes Conference, with its two most recent losses to Division 3 teams. St. Mary as an independent has played a variety of schools all over the state and has wins over Ellsworth (71-63) and Frankfort (64-38), with three of its four losses to Division 3 schools and the fourth to Rudyard (21-1).
Ewen-Trout Creek (19-3) vs. Lake Linden-Hubbell (13-8), Powers North Central (18-4) vs. Munising (19-2)
Ewen-Trout Creek finished second in overall Division 4 MPR, with North Central No. 4 and Munising No. 12. All three are league champions. Ewen-Trout Creek owns a big win over Lake Linden-Hubbell from a month ago and also a one-pointer over Menominee (see above) from March 1, but the Lakes are riding a six-game winning streak. North Central and Munising meet again after the Jets won their Feb. 23 game 59-48 and Munising won the rematch March 3 64-43. North Central’s only other losses were to Menominee, with Munising’s other defeat to Rudyard.
Clarkston Everest Collegiate (17-5) vs. Marine City Cardinal Mooney (14-8), Genesee Christian (18-4) vs. Ubly (17-4)
All four finished among the top 24 in Division 4 MPR – with Genesee Christian No. 7, Ubly No. 11 and Everest No. 13. Genesee Christian has three losses from either Beecher or Flint Hamady, which also advanced to this week in Division 2, and the Soldiers defeated Everest 55-50 on Jan. 29. Ubly won the Greater Thumb Conference East with all four of its losses to Division 3 teams that won 14 or more games, and the Bearcats earned a 69-44 win over another league champ Kinde North Huron to finish last week’s District run. This will be the third meeting between Everest and Cardinal Mooney, with the Mountaineers winning the first two by two and then three in overtime, respectively. Everest also has a two-point win over annual contender Southfield Christian.
Second Half’s weekly “Breslin Bound” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTO Jalen Kampen (22) gets his hand on a loose ball during Parchment's 58-55 win over Otsego to clinch a Division 2 District title Friday. (Photo by Gary Shook.)
HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.
It reads "In Jesus' name we play."
Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to God.
"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.
Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.
The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.
Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.
With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.
"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."
Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.
The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.
"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.
Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.
"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."
Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.
"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.
Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.
"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."
In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.
"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.
The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.
"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”
Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.
"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.
"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”
"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."
Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.
During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.
The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.
Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.
"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."
Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.
"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."
The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.
Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.
"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."
Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.
Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.
Scott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)