C-D Preview: Chasing the Champs

March 23, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Two storylines jump out immediately from this weekend’s MHSAA Class C and D Semifinals at the Breslin Center.

Reigning Class D champion Powers North Central has won 53 straight games – and with two more wins this weekend will tie the fourth-longest streak in MHSAA history and set up a run next winter at Chassell’s record of 65 straight victories.

Reigning Class C champion Flint Beecher, meanwhile, is only going for its fourth championship in five seasons.

Six more teams would love to ruin these scenarios.

All four Class C and D Semifinals will be played Thursday, with all four championship games Saturday. 

Semifinals - Thursday
Class C

Grandville Calvin Christian (20-4) vs. McBain (26-0), 1 p.m. 
Flint Beecher (23-2) vs. Detroit Loyola (21-5), 2:50 p.m.

Class D
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (20-5) vs. Waterford Our Lady (21-4), 6 p.m. 
Fulton (19-6) vs. Powers North Central (26-0), 7:50 p.m.

Finals - Saturday
Class A - Noon
Class B - 6:30 p.m. 
Class C - 4:30 p.m. 
Class D - 10 a.m. 

Tickets cost $8 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session. All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.TV on a pay-per-view basis. All four Finals will be broadcast live on FOX Sports Detroit-PLUS. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.

And now, a look at the semifinalists in Class C and D. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals except for Tri-unity Christian’s, which are through 18 games.)

Class C

21-5, honorable mention
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League AA
Coach: John Buscemi, 12th season (171-75)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 58-47 over Hanover-Horton in Quarterfinal, 66-53 over No. 10 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in Regional Semifinal, 69-45 over No. 8 Detroit Allen Academy in District Semifinal, 56-49 over Detroit Martin Luther King.
Players to watch: Romari Ennis, 5-11 sr. G (13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.2 spg); Dequan Powell, 5-10 sr. G (13.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg).
Outlook: Loyola is no longer just a football school. The Bulldogs built on their third District title in eight seasons with a first Regional championship and will be prepared for more having faced a schedule loaded with larger schools – after falling to Southfield Christian by nine in its opener, Loyola’s other four losses were by a combined eight points to three Class A teams and a Class B. Sophomore guard Pierre Mitchell adds another 11.1 points per game to a balanced starting five.

23-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red
Coach: Mike Williams, 12th season (229-71)
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 72-45 over honorable mention Ithaca in Quarterfinal, 78-65 over No. 9 Southfield Christian in Regional Final, 68-62 over Flint Hamady in District Quarterfinal, 58-48 over Class B No. 6 River Rouge, 72-69 over Class A No. 6 Detroit East English.
Players to watch: Malik Ellison, 5-8 jr. G (statistics not submitted); Levane Blake, 6-8 jr. C (statistics not submitted).
Outlook: Beecher has returned to the elite and then some under Williams, who will attempt to lead the Bucs to their fourth title in five seasons. Ellison, Blake and 6-4 senior guard Aquavius Burks all started in last season’s Final as well and key a lineup that lost this season only to reigning Class A champion Detroit Western International and current top-ranked Class A Detroit U-D Jesuit.

20-4, unranked
League finish: Third in Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver
Coach: Ryan Stevens, 18th season (269-146)
Championship history: Class C champion 1994, Class B runner-up 1992.
Best wins: 64-42 over No. 5 Kalamazoo Hackett in Quarterfinal, 39-35 over Muskegon Heights in Regional Final, 52-45 over Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian in District Final, 63-52 over Class D No. 8 Wyoming Tri-unity Christian, 59-52 over Hudsonville Unity Christian.
Players to watch: Tony DeWitte, 6-2 sr. G (18.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.3 apg); Blake Verbeek, 6-9 soph. C (11.7 ppg, 8.3 rpg).
Outlook: Calvin Christian will play in its first Semifinal since the championship season of 1994, with DeWitte pacing a group that has improved eight wins from a year ago. The Squires avenged two of their regular-season losses by beating reigning Class C runner-up NorthPointe during the District, and their other two losses came to reigning Class B champion Wyoming Godwin Heights. Senior guard Braden Stevens adds another 9.4 points and 3.3 assists per game for a lineup that sees all five starters average at least six ppg.

26-0, No. 3
League finish: First in Highland Conference
Coach: Bruce Koopman, 22nd season (408-116)
Championship history: Class C champion 2002, runner-up 2011.
Best wins: 60-55 over No. 7 Beaverton in Regional Semifinal, 61-54 over Class D No. 5 Frankfort, 55-52 over Big Rapids.
Players to watch: Craig Sterk, 6-7 jr. F (15.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.2 bpg); Cole Powell, 6-3 sr. G (14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg); Logan Elling, 6-0 jr. G (14.4 ppg, 54 3-pointers).
Outlook: McBain is nearly a regular during the final week of the season and is back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2011 with its best record at this point during Koopman’s impressive run. Only five games have been closer than 10 points, and three of those five came over the last three weeks. In addition to the three double-figures scorers, five more players average between 3-5 ppg in providing the Ramblers with reliable depth.

Class D 

19-6, unranked
League finish: Second in Central Michigan Athletic Conference
Coach: Todd Walden, 19th season (249-178)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2011.
Best wins: 51-41 over No. 6 Bellaire in Quarterfinal, 66-54 over Baldwin in Regional Semifinal, 55-42 over Fowler in District Final.
Players to watch: Colton Antes, 6-0 sr. G (19.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.9, apg, 92 3-pointers); Caleb Walden, 5-11 jr. G (9.3 ppg, 44 3-pointers).
Outlook: Fulton is making its third Semifinal appearance in six seasons and second straight, and like a year ago is dangerous to every opponent because of its ability to shoot from the perimeter – Antes will finish this winter with entries on the MHSAA single-season and career lists for 3-pointers. All of the losses were to Class C teams, and the Pirates have won 10 of their last 11 games overall.

26-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Skyline Central Conference West
Coach: Adam Mercier, 10th season (158-78)
Championship history: Class D champions 2015 and 1984.
Best wins: 75-52 over Onaway in Quarterfinal, 75-45 (Regional Final), 64-61 and 68-54 over No. 4 Crystal Falls Forest Park, 79-54 over No. 6 Lake Linden-Hubbell in Regional Semifinal, 60-48 and 64-60 over Menominee.
Players to watch: Jason Whitens, 6-5 jr. G (22.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 5.8 apg); Dawson Bilski, 6-2 jr. G (15.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.9 apg, 3.1 spg, 2.0 bpg).
Outlook: Powers North Central hasn’t lost since the 2014 Quarterfinals and shows no signs of slowing with its two leading players both juniors. As makes sense for a team averaging 76 points per game, Whitens and Bilski get plenty of help – junior Bobby Kleiman adds 10.5 points, while seniors Troy Ekberg and Morgan Cox round out the starters at 8.4 and 7.3 ppg, respectively, and top-scoring junior sub Marcus Krachinski averages 6.9. The only scare came in the four-point win over Menominee; the Jets have won their tournament games by an average of 35 points per.  

20-4, No. 3
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Intersectional #1
Coach: Paul Robak, third season (63-10)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 52-46 (Quarterfinal) and 61-58 over Marine City Cardinal Mooney, 58-46 and 48-46 over Royal Oak Shrine, 83-68 over Macomb Lutheran North.
Players to watch: Andrew Kline, 6-4 sr. G (18.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 5.7 apg, 3.1 spg); Devin Senerius, 6-2 sr. G (11.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg).
Outlook: After making the Semifinals last season for the first time since 1993, Our Lady is back for a second straight year and with three starters returning after finishing a point from making its first championship game. The Lakers bounced back big this time after losing the final two games of the regular season. Senior forward Clay Senerius joined Devin and Kline as starters in 2015 and averages 6.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, while freshmen guard Noah Robak averages 9.2 and three others average 4-6 ppg.

20-5, tied for No. 8
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Mark Keeler, 29th season (546-168)
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2011), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 54-43 over Adrian Lenawee Christian in Quarterfinal, 65-60 (District Semifinal) and 41-39 over honorable mention Wyoming Potter’s House Christian, 58-57 (OT) over Lansing Christian.
Players to watch: Willie Otole, 6-0 sr. G (15.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.9 apg); Braydon Sherrod, 6-2 jr. F (10.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg).
Outlook: Tri-unity is back at Breslin after last finishing runner-up in 2013, and with a team featuring only two seniors in Otole and starting guard Javi Cuevas. The Defenders have won 10 of their last 11 after falling to Class C semifinalist Grandville Calvin Christian on Feb. 12, with the only loss since to Class A Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills. Junior guard Collin Rosendall adds another 11.1 points per game.

The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTO: Powers North Central locks down Onaway's offense during Tuesday's Quarterfinal win. (Photo by Paul Gerard.)

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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 MHSAA.com 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.)