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.)
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).
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).
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.
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.)
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.)