Breslin Bound: Boys Quarterfinal Preview

March 18, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

1927. 1948. 1953. 1955. 1968.

A number of boys basketball teams playing in MHSAA Quarterfinals tonight are celebrating returns to the final week of the season for the first time in seemingly forever. And for a few others, tonight will mark the first time, ever, they've advanced this far. 

See below for brief previews of all 16 Quarterfinal games, and click for brackets and more to be updated as scores are reported tonight. 

(NOTE: ppg=point per game, rpg=rebounds per game, apg=assists per game, spg=steals per game, bpg=blocks per game.)

Class A

Howell (19-5) vs. Mount Pleasant (21-4) at Davison

Howell is playing in its first Quarterfinal since 1927 and advanced by avenging two regular-season losses to Kensington Lakes Activities Association West champion Grand Blanc by winning in the Regional Final. Senior 6-foot-3 guard Tyler Johnson leads with 15.9 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Mount Pleasant also is back after a shorter but still lengthy absence, playing in its first Quarterfinal since 1982. Senior 6-6 forward Jaleel Hogan averages 16.5 points and 11.4 rebounds per game.

Ann Arbor Skyline (17-7) vs. Muskegon (25-0) at Lansing Eastern

Skyline has improved from 10-11 each of the last two seasons and stunned Kalamazoo Central in the Regional Final to advance. The task is tall again though in Muskegon, led by recently-named Mr. Basketball Award winner and senior guard Deshaun Thrower (18.6 ppg) and 6-9 junior center Deyonta Davis (14.2 ppg, 13.6 rpg). Skyline is in its first Quarterfinal; Muskegon missed the Semifinals by falling to Grand Rapids Christian by three in this game a year ago.  

Romulus (21-4) vs. Detroit U-D Jesuit (21-2) at Detroit Mercy

U-D Jesuit won the regular-season matchup between these two 67-57 three weeks ago, but reigning Class A champion Romulus surely won’t go quietly. Sophomore guard Cassius Winston leads three Jesuit scorers averaging double figures with 18.4 ppg along with 7.2 rpg. The Eagles are directed by first-year coach Jerret Smith, a standout on the 2005 Class A runner-up team who went on to play at the University of Michigan and Grand Valley State University.

Warren Mott (21-4) vs. Bloomfield Hills (22-3) at Detroit Mercy

Both are playing in their first Quarterfinal; Mott despite opening this season 2-3 and Bloomfield Hills because it is a first-year school, although the schools that merged to form it – Lahser and Andover – also had never advanced past Regionals. Mott is scoring a school-record 73.2 points per game, led by 6-8 senior forward Kenny Goins (21.1 ppg, 14.8 rpg, 5.4 bpg). 

Class B

Benton Harbor (15-9) vs. Wyoming Godwin Heights (25-0) at Middleville Thornapple Kellogg

Longtime power Benton Harbor is back in the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2001 thanks in part to a three-point win over Stevensville Lakeshore in the District opener and an overtime win over Otsego in the Regional Final. Senior 6-6 forward Cortez Moore leads with 21 points and 12 rebounds per game. Godwin Heights reached the Semifinals a year ago and is a combined 72-4 over the last three. Senior 6-4 center Markese Mayfield and 6-3 junior forward Delaney Blaylock both average 17 points per game.

Big Rapids (20-4) vs. Cadillac (18-6) at Ferris State University

This is a rematch from last season’s Quarterfinal round, when Cadillac won 41-29. Senior forward Quinn Tyson has keyed Big Rapids’ return with 23.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Cadillac will play in its fourth straight Quarterfinal after surviving three straight tournament games decided by five points or fewer. Senior forward Jalen Brooks is averaging 17.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game to lead the Vikings.

Detroit Douglass (16-9) vs. Goodrich (20-5) at Marysville 

Douglass is in its second Quarterfinal ever and seeking its first Semifinal appearance, and has suffered eight of its losses to Class A or Chicago-area teams. The Hurricanes have won District titles in eight of 10 seasons under coach Nkwane Young. Goodrich tied for second in the Genesee Area Conference Red with Class C Regional finalist Montrose and behind reigning Class C champion Flint Beecher.

Milan (22-3) vs. Wayland (21-4) at Chelsea

Milan has won 17 straight going back to mid-January to reach its first Quarterfinal since 1948. Junior guard Latin Davis (15.9 ppg) and junior 6-7 center Nick Perkins (15 ppg) key an offense that has won all but one of its tournament games by at least 14 points. Wayland is in a Quarterfinal for the first time since 1955. The Wildcats advanced with an overtime win over No. 2-ranked Jackson Lumen Christi in the Regional Final and get a big boost from a pair of juniors, 6-6 center Lacey James (14.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg) and guard Dilon Aten (18.5 ppg).

Class C

Flint Beecher (22-3) vs. Pewamo-Westphalia (21-2) at Owosso

Reigning Class C champion Beecher has five new starters this season including three underclassmen, but the Buccaneers have won 17 straight since their last loss Jan. 18 to Class A Detroit Cass Tech. A strong group of nine seniors has been building for this Pewamo-Westphalia run, especially after the Pirates suffered their only 2011-12 loss in the Quarterfinal. Senior guard Nick Spitzley has led a balanced lineup with 18.7 points per game.

Muskegon Heights (19-3) vs. Hillsdale (24-1) at Vicksburg

Muskegon Heights has one of the longest traditions of success in MHSAA boys basketball history, and that has continued through its closing and re-opening as a public school academy two years ago. The Tigers are making their fourth Quarterfinal appearance in five seasons. Hillsdale is back in the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2005 and hasn’t lost since falling to P-W in its opener. Senior guard Brandon Bisher scores 18 points per game for the Hornets.

Detroit Consortium (22-2) vs. Mount Clemens (24-1) at West Bloomfield

Consortium has fallen only to annual powers Detroit Pershing and Country Day and defeated a number of strong, larger teams including Saginaw, Detroit Southeastern, Detroit Douglass and Saginaw Arthur Hill. Sophomore 6-8 forward Joshua Jackson has been a big part averaging 25 points and 14.7 rebounds per game. Mount Clemens’ lone loss came just last month to Class A favorite Muskegon, and the Battling Bathers have won all of their tournament games by at least 13 points. They are in their first Quarterfinal since 1985.

East Jordan (19-4) vs. Negaunee (23-1) at Petoskey

East Jordan last played in a Regional Final in 1953, but bounced back from two losses to end the regular season to return to the final week – thanks also to an overtime win over Beaverton in the Regional Final. Neguanee is much more familiar with this spot; this is the Miners’ fourth straight Quarterfinal, and they missed last season’s championship game by falling just two points short in the Semifinal. Standout senior guards Tyler Jandron and Eric Lori average 17.5 and 16.6 points per game, respectively.

Class D

Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (20-3) vs. Frankfort (19-6) at Cadillac

Sacred Heart advanced with a nationally-replayed buzzer-beater over Fulton-Middleton and hopes to follow its girls team to an MHSAA title. Senior 6-6 forward Kevin Gamble, son of the former NBA player by the same name and brother to the girls team’s standout center Averi, averages 15 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Frankfort finished second in the Northwest Conference thanks to two losses to Suttons Bay, but beat Suttons Bay by 19 on the way to reaching the final week for the second straight season. Senior 6-3 center David Loney averages 20.1 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.

Southfield Christian (23-1) vs. Peck (22-0) at Burton Bendle

Peck is back in the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1968 and led by a pair of standouts from its 8-player football MHSAA championship team – 6-4 junior Kyle Abrego (15.1 ppg) and 6-3 senior Tristen Haener (10.9 ppg). The Pirates must next defeat two-time reigning champion Southfield Christian, which has a new coach in promoted assistant Clennie Brundidge and returning standouts in senior forward Lindsey Hunter IV (14.8 ppg), junior guard Bakari Evelyn (16 ppg) and sophomore guard Eugene Brown (11.4). The Eagles’ only loss was to Class A Saginaw Arthur Hill.  

Cedarville (22-2) vs. Powers North Central (25-0) at Marquette

This too is a rematch of a 2013 Quarterfinal, which North Central won 71-57. The Jets were virtually untouchable during the regular season with only Carney-Nadeau and Munising getting within single digits – although those two and Crystal Falls Forest Park all got within eight or fewer points of North Central during the last two weeks. Senior forward Travis Vincent (15.1 ppg) leads four Jets averaging double-figure scoring. Cedarville’s only losses were to a pair of solid Class C teams, and the Trojans are more than capable of taking the next step; they’ve won Regional titles eight of the last nine seasons and beat Quarterfinalist Frankfort earlier this winter.

Battle Creek St. Philip (24-1) vs. Adrian Lenawee Christian (19-4) at Battle Creek Central

St. Philip is back in a Quarterfinal for the first time since 1984 and with 10 straight wins by 15 or more points. Senior guard Tyler Hubbard-Neil leads four Tigers averaging double-figure points with 13.9 per game. Lenawee Christian is making its second Quarterfinal appearance in four seasons and thanks in part to surviving a two-point scare against Morenci in the District Final after losing two of its final three regular-season games. 

PHOTO: Mount Pleasant, here against Saginaw Arthur Hill, advanced to the MHSAA Quarterfinals for the first time since 1982. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.) 

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.)