Breslin Bound: Boys Regional Preview

March 13, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Only 128 teams remain in the MHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament – and seven have yet to taste defeat this season.

That’s guaranteed to change beginning with tonight’s Regional Semifinals, where Class A and C will enjoy matchups of teams that have achieved perfection to this point this winter. Our Breslin Bound report – powered my MI Student Aid – looks more closely at those sections of the bracket as we glance at three Regionals in each class that jump off the screen most this week.

Click to check out all Regional brackets for every class: Class A | Class B | Class C | Class D 

Week in Review

The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:

1. Manton 54, McBain 48 – McBain was undefeated and arguably the favorite to win all of Class C, and had beaten Manton by 16 on Feb. 22.

2. Frankenmuth 58, Bridgeport 49 – The “tie-breaker” between Tri-Valley Conference East co-champions went to the Eagles in this Class B District Final.

3. Detroit Cass Tech 45, Detroit Martin Luther King 43 – This rematch of the Detroit Public School League championship game again went Cass Tech’s way in Class A.

4. Flushing 39, Flint Carman-Ainsworth 36 – The Raiders went on to win the Class A District after opening with this victory over the Cavaliers, who had beaten Flushing by three a week earlier.

5. Onsted 52, Hillsdale 45 – Onsted went on to fall to Chelsea 57-45 in their Class B District Final, but on the way handed Hillsdale its first and only loss after falling to the Hornets in overtime and by two during the regular season.

Regionals at a Glance

These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:


Dearborn Fordson
Dearborn Fordson (11-12), Detroit Cass Tech (18-4), Detroit U-D Jesuit (18-3), Westland John Glenn (20-3). 

There’s a chance for a meeting of champions of the Detroit area’s two most prestigious leagues; Cass Tech opens against Fordson, while Catholic League A-B winner and reigning Class A champion U-D Jesuit faces John Glenn in the other Semifinal. John Glenn just missed being a champion as well, finishing second in its division of the Kensington Lakes Activities Conference and runner-up in the Kensington Conference tournament. Fordson is the potential spoiler and has won seven of its last nine. Jesuit did beat Cass Tech 65-53 in an Operation Friendship game just two weeks ago.

Grand Haven
Grand Rapids Christian (23-0), Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (16-7), Holland West Ottawa (22-1), Muskegon (23-0). 

Tonight’s second Semifinal pits the undefeated Eagles and Big Reds, arguably the most highly-anticipated matchup in Michigan this week. And that very well could work to the advantage of the teams on the other side of the bracket; Holland West Ottawa’s only loss this season was by eight to Grand Rapids Christian on Dec. 28, and Forest Hills Northern is riding high after a one-point upset last week of rival Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, which won their Ottawa-Kent Conference White.

Richland Gull Lake
Battle Creek Central (19-3), East Lansing (23-0), Holt (19-4), Kalamazoo Central (19-3). 

East Lansing got past last season’s nemesis, Lansing Everett, with a five-point win in the District Final, but the living won’t be easy this week. Two of Battle Creek Central’s losses were to rival Kalamazoo Central, and the Bearcats have won 13 of their last 14 games. The Maroon Giants came within a basket of downing undefeated Grand Rapids Christian in their regular-season finale two weeks ago and feature Mr. Basketball Award finalist Isaiah Livers. But Holt won’t be an easy out – especially with motivation to see East Lansing again after falling to the Trojans by only four and five in league play this winter.


Battle Creek Harper Creek (15-8), Benton Harbor (19-3), Three Rivers (15-7), Wayland (20-3). 

The Tigers closed the regular season with two losses over three games, but by a combined three points after suffering their only other defeat in overtime. (And all three of those losses were to Class A teams.) Harper Creek, tonight’s opponent, beat one of those three that downed Benton Harbor – Sturgis, by eight – and has won 11 of its last 12 after starting the streak against Three Rivers. Three Rivers happens to be on the other side of this bracket, the Wolverine Conference South champion which advanced with two four-point wins in its District. Wayland might be the contender getting talked about least, so keep an eye out; its three losses were twice to Grand Rapids Christian and once, by only two, to one-loss Wyoming Godwin Heights.

Alma (17-6), Frankenmuth (20-2), Freeland (20-2), Lake Fenton (17-6).

Both sides of this bracket pit a 20-2 team vs. a 17-6 opponent tonight. Of the 17-6 pair, Alma finished second to Freeland in the Tri-Valley Conference Central but has won nine of its last 10 since an overtime defeat to the Falcons. Lake Fenton similarly has won 10 straight and tied for second in the Genesee Area Conference Red behind Class C power Flint Beecher. Freeland has won 11 straight since dropping back-to-back games in late January. And Frankenmuth has won 20 of its last 21, including by 19 over Alma midseason.

North Branch
Almont (20-3), Flint Northwestern (11-11), New Haven (22-1), Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (14-9). 

New Haven has seemed rather unstoppable and is pursuing a third straight Regional title. But tonight’s opponent Flint Northwestern is playing with major motivation as this could be the final run for the longtime hoops power – the Wildcats won their District games by three and then in overtime, respectively. On the other side of the bracket, Almont is a great story coming from 6-15 last season to win the Blue Water Area Conference title and 12 straight games heading into this week. Notre Dame Prep got hot at the right time, winning its District after dropping three of four to close the regular season.


Cassopolis (18-4), Kalamazoo Christian (16-7), Quincy (19-4), Schoolcraft (22-1).

Cassopolis, Quincy and Schoolcraft all won league titles this season, and Christian finished third in Schoolcraft’s league, the Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley. Those two face off again tonight, with Schoolcraft winning the previous two meetings first by 26 but then only two on Feb. 17. Quincy shared the Big 8 Conference title with 14 wins over its last 15 games since dropping its only defeat in the league. Cassopolis, the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Red winner, has won 10 of its last 11 and is battle-tested after needing double overtime twice last week to advance.

Houghton Lake
Boyne City (16-7), Manton (18-4), Maple City Glen Lake (18-4), Whittemore-Prescott (15-6).

Manton finished second in the Highland Conference, but might be the favorite to win its first Regional since 1998 after handing league champion and previously-undefeated McBain its first and only loss in the District Final. Glen Lake similarly finished runner-up to an undefeated team (Buckley) in the Northwest Conference and has won 13 of its last 15. Boyne City won its third straight District title and has found its stride again after opening this season 8-1 but running into a tough stretch midway through. Whittemore-Prescott is 8-1 over its last nine and has now improved from six to 11 to 15 victories over the last three seasons.

Adrian Madison (15-8), Ann Arbor Greenhills (15-7), Michigan Center (23-0), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (22-0). 

Tonight’s first Semifinal pits the undefeated teams. Michigan Center is continuing a run that hasn’t seen any opponent get closer than 11 points this season despite playing 19 and 16-game winners during last week's District. St. Mary has had only one single-digit game, an overtime win over Class B Notre Dame Prep on Jan. 6, and is playing for its fourth Regional title in six seasons. The only Regional championship between Madison and Greenhills ever was won by Greenhills in 1996, no doubt adding to the excitement of this week for both. Madison avenged two earlier losses by beating previously-undefeated Sand Creek to open its District title run, while Greenhills has won nine of its last 12 games and claimed all three of its District games by at least 14 points.


Big Rapids Crossroads Academy
Baldwin (20-1), Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (14-9), Muskegon Catholic Central (10-12), Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (14-8). 

It’s hard to believe Baldwin hasn’t won a Regional title since 1984, but that could change this week as the team’s only loss this season was by two to West Michigan D League co-runner-up Crossroads on Jan. 12. Only two other opponents got within single digits of the Panthers this winter. MCC’s record is a little deceiving because it plays in a Lakes 8 Conference with all Class B and C teams and lost seven of eight games to close the regular season before dominating its District. As noted last week, Tri-unity made the Class D Semifinals last season and its record also is deceiving with more than half of its games against larger opponents. Same with Sacred Heart, which won all of its District games by double digits and has 11 wins over its last 14 after a rough first two months.

St. Ignace
Cedarville (16-6), Engadine (12-10), Hillman (22-1), Pellston (16-6). 

Hillman didn’t appear too stung last week after suffering its only loss by three two weeks ago to Lincoln Alcona. But next up is opening-night opponent Cedarville, which Hillman beat by 17 all the way back on Dec. 6; the Trojans went on to finish second in the Eastern Upper Peninsula Athletic Conference and then downed league champion Pickford by 24 in their District Final. Pellston also was a league runner-up, to Bellaire in the Ski Valley Conference, quite a jump after finishing 6-16 a season ago. Engadine’s comeback has been arguably more substantial; the Eagles are still alive after going just 2-19 last winter.

Traverse City
Bellaire (22-1), Buckley (22-0), Hale (17-6), Suttons Bay (13-10). 

While this would seem to line up a Buckley/Bellaire matchup in the championship game, it’s not that easy. Yes, Bellaire hasn’t lost since opening night (by three to Harbor Springs). But Suttons Bay stunned Frankfort in their District Final and could be capable of giving the Eagles a close game as well. Buckley hasn’t lost since last season’s Regional Final against Bellaire, but Hale has won 10 of 12 and also is a league champion having won the North Star League Little Dipper title – after going just 7-12 last season.

PHOTO: Flint Northwestern got past Goodrich 76-70 in overtime Friday to win their Class B District. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

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.)