Breslin Bound: Quarterfinal Preview

March 19, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Breslin Center is only one more win away for 32 boys basketball teams taking the floor in Quarterfinals on Tuesday across Michigan.

So far we know we’ll have at least two new champions, in Class C and Class D, when this week ends. And only eight of the 16 teams that made the trip to East Lansing last season have a chance to book Semifinal repeat returns.

Our final “Breslin Bound” report – powered by MI Student Aid – takes a glance at all 16 Quarterfinals, which are all at 7 p.m. unless noted. All Quarterfinals will be broadcast and viewable with subscription on Come back Wednesday night for a more in-depth look at our 16 finalists as they head into this weekend.

Class A

Warren DeLaSalle (18-7) vs. Detroit U-D Jesuit (22-3) at University of Detroit Mercy – 5 p.m.

These Detroit Catholic League Central rivals have played three times, with Jesuit winning all three meetings – although the second Feb. 10 by just two points. The Cubs won their fourth straight Regional title and were Class A champions in 2016, while this will be DeLaSalle’s first Quarterfinal since 2010. Junior guard Daniel Friday leads three Jesuit players averaging double-digit scoring at 13.9 ppg, while senior forward Luke Pfromm scores a team-high 15.6 ppg for the Pilots.

Flint Carman-Ainsworth (23-2) vs. Clarkston (23-1) at Grand Blanc

Reigning champion Clarkston is hoping to add to last season’s first-ever title and celebrated its second Mr. Basketball Award winner Monday in senior guard Foster Loyer (25.6 ppg, 6.0 apg). Center Taylor Currie (13.1 ppg) and guard CJ Robinson (13.8 ppg) are also senior standouts. Only four opponents have come within single digits of the Wolves, and Carman-Ainsworth was the first falling 72-67 on Dec. 7. The Cavaliers are seeking their first Semifinal berth since back-to-back trips in 2003 and 2004. Their only other defeat this winter came to Holland West Ottawa, alive on the other side of this bracket. Senior guards Omari Duncan (16 ppg) and Ja’Kavien Lewis (14.9 ppg, 3.0 apg) are among playmakers.

East Lansing (22-3) vs. Holland West Ottawa (23-2) at Lansing’s Don Johnson Fieldhouse

West Ottawa is 23-2 for the second straight season but with a first Regional title in program history this time. In addition to defeating Carman-Ainsworth, the Panthers have beaten powers Muskegon and Grand Rapids Catholic Central over the last three weeks. Senior forward Tyler Bosma leads with 17.2 ppg. East Lansing’s Brandon Johns (26.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg) finished second in the Mr. Basketball voting and can lead the Trojans to their first Semifinal since 2008. The Regional Final win over rival Okemos avenged East Lansing’s two most recent defeats.

Belleville (20-5) vs. Novi (16-8) at University of Detroit Mercy – 7 p.m.

A pair of teams with high preseason hopes followed by slow starts have made good by reaching the final week of this winter. The Tigers have won 15 of their last 16 – with the lone loss in overtime – and are led by standout seniors Gabe Brown and Davion Williams. Novi has won 10 of its last 11 and surged with the return of senior guard Trendon Hankerson (14.2 ppg) from injury to go with senior Taveon Maddox, Jr. (17.5 ppg), and junior Jiovanni Miles (15.3 ppg).

Class B

Benton Harbor (24-1) vs. Williamston (22-2) at Ionia

Benton Harbor is seeking its second straight and third Semifinal berth in five seasons. Since falling to eventual champion New Haven in a Semifinal to end last winter, the Tigers have lost only to Class A Hazel Park. Sophomore Carlos Johnson (18.3 ppg, 13.1 rpg) remains among the top players statewide in his class and is joined by senior Shawn Hopkins (15.7/11.4). Williamston is undefeated in calendar year 2018, having fallen to Class A quarterfinalist DeLaSalle and Howell in November. The Hornets will play in their third straight Quarterfinal and made the Semifinals in 2016.

Dearborn Divine Child (18-6) vs. River Rouge (22-1) at Chelsea

River Rouge also is celebrating its third straight Quarterfinal appearance and after falling in last year’s Semifinal by a point in overtime to eventual Class B runner-up Ludington. Senior guard Jayvien Torrance-Jackson is the only returning starter from that team, but the Panthers have fallen this winter only to Class D quarterfinalist Southfield Christian. Divine Child is coming off its first Regional title since 2011 and seeking to make the Semifinals for the first time since 1977. Senior forward Quinn Blair leads at 20.2 ppg.

New Haven (25-0) vs. Bridgeport (24-1) at Corunna

Reigning champion New Haven has won 51 straight games going back to Dec. 2016, with junior star Romeo Weems (23.5 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 5.7 apg, 5.1 spg) leading four players averaging double-digit scoring. Seniors Tavares Oliver (16.8) and Ashton Sherrell (15.7) follow on that list. Bridgeport’s lone slip-up came by three points in its opener at Lansing Everett. The Bearcats have rattled off 24 straight wins thanks in part to the scoring of senior Charles Garrett (20.1 ppg) and junior Sirquarius Bell (17 ppg).

Grand Rapids Catholic Central (22-2) vs. Boyne City (19-6) at Big Rapids

GRCC’s 6-foot-11 senior Marcus Bingham, Jr., (16.8 ppg, 10 rpg) is another Mr. Basketball finalist who has brought his team to the final week, with plenty of help in the post from 6-8 senior Jake Polakovich (14.2 ppg, 10.5 rpg). The Cougars’ only loss of calendar year 2018 was to Class A quarterfinalist West Ottawa. Boyne City has been a Class C power over the last four seasons but moved into B for 2017-18. They eliminated reigning runner-up Ludington last week after winning a fourth straight District title. Senior forward Mason Gardner leads a balanced scoring attack at 11.4 ppg.

Class C

Detroit Edison (14-10) vs. Unionville-Sebewaing (25-0) at West Bloomfield

Edison reached the Quarterfinals and Semifinals for the first time last season and will play this time after also winning the Detroit Public School League tournament last month. Senior guards Gary Solomon (16.2 ppg) and Pierre Mitchell, Jr. (15.3 ppg), set the scoring pace. Unionville-Sebewaing eliminated three-time reigning Class C champion Flint Beecher in the Regional Final to reach championship week for the first time since 2005. That and the Regional Semifinal win over Saginaw Nouvel were the first single-digit victories for the Patriots since their third game this season against Detroit Douglass.

Grand Rapids Covenant Christian (21-4) vs. Sanford Meridian (21-3) at Stanton Central Montcalm

After a more than a 20-year absence, Covenant Christian returned to the season’s final week a year ago and ended up as Class C runner-up. Its losses during this repeat run were all to bigger schools, including by just four to GRCC. Senior forward Carson Meulenberg has returned as the team’s leading scorer at 15.4 ppg. Sanford Meridian celebrated its first Regional title since 2001 and is playing for its first Semifinal berth. The Mustangs are making this run without injured top scorer Lucas Lueder (14 ppg), as senior point guard Garrett Stockford (9.2 ppg) leads a balanced bunch.

Kalamazoo Christian (23-2) vs. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (24-0) at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix

Kalamazoo Christian won its second straight Regional title, this time by handing Cassopolis its only loss of the season 61-48 on Wednesday. Senior forward Jordan Katje (16.8 ppg, 11.6 rpg) has been a force. Monroe St. Mary also made the Quarterfinals last season – and this will be its fifth trip this decade. Senior C.J. Haut (18.4 ppg, 11.3 rpg) has a similar post presence as Katje, and they could provide a memorable matchup. Katje is 6-5 and Haut 6-8.

Maple City Glen Lake (22-2) vs. Iron Mountain (23-1) at Petoskey – 6 p.m.

Like its girls team last week, Glen Lake’s boys are Regional champs and playing for more. The Lakers’ lone losses were to reigning Class D runner-up Buckley, which also remains alive. Junior guard Xander Okerlund checks in at a team-leading 16.1 ppg. Iron Mountain is enjoying its longest tournament run since 1994, with its only loss to league foe Ishpeming. Sophomore Marcus Johnson (23.5) and freshman Foster Wonders (19.1) offer one of the most potent 1-2 scoring punches left in the tournament – and with a few more seasons to build on this success.

Class D

Cedarville (21-3) vs. Dollar Bay (25-0) at Escanaba

Dollar Bay has been one of the statewide stories of this season, and the Blue Bolts have advanced to the final week for the first time since 1979. They won their Regional games last week over Rapid River and Carney-Nadeau by a combined four points and should get another challenge from Cedarville. The Trojans have won 11 in a row and beat 20-win league foe Brimley to claim a fourth Regional title this decade. Senior guard Dakota Fairchild (14.1 ppg) leads a balanced attack.

Southfield Christian (20-4) vs. Flint International Academy (23-2) at Goodrich

Southfield Christian earned its fifth Regional title this decade and is sure to be motivated this week after missing last season’s championship game by a point in a double overtime loss to eventual champ Powers North Central. Senior Bryce Washington (21.6 ppg) and junior Harlond Beverly (16 ppg, 5.4) are among players to watch. Flint International will play its first Quarterfinal riding an 18-game winning streak. The Phoenix has given up more than 60 points this season only four times, and no more than 65 in a game.

Marcellus Howardsville Christian (20-5) vs. Hillsdale Academy (23-2) at Portage Northern

Howardsville Christian is another team playing a Quarterfinal for the first time. The Eagles have won 10 straight led by dynamic junior guard Dylan Jergens at 31.5 points and also 6.3 assists per game. Hillsdale Academy, coming off its first Regional title as well, also features a dynamic player – 6-7 senior center Peter Kalthoff, who averages 21.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for the Colts. They avenged their second loss of the season with a Regional Final win over Adrian Lenawee Christian.

Buckley (19-5) vs. Hillman (24-0) at Gaylord

This has been a long-awaited matchup in the northern Lower Peninsula, as reigning Class D runner-up Buckley has faced many of the best in Class C and D on its side of I-75. Seniors Denver Cade (16.5 ppg), Austin Harris (17) and Joey Weber (14.4) are all 1,000-point career scorers. Hillman has only two single-digit wins this season, although the latest was a four-pointer over league foe Mio in the Regional Final.  This will be the Tigers’ second straight and third Quarterfinal in four seasons. Senior guard Jared Juergens (14.8 ppg) leads four players scoring at least 10 per game.

PHOTO: Flint Carman-Ainsworth's Ja'kavien Lewis looks to finish a drive against Midland this season. (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.)