Clarkston Earns 1st Shot at Dream Finish

March 24, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Dan Fife dreamed of playing for an MHSAA basketball championship at Jenison Field House while a student at Clarkston 50 years ago.

Thursday afternoon, the current Wolves made similar dreams come true – and offered their coach that opportunity he never was able to achieve as a player.

Clarkston’s 78-35 win over league rival West Bloomfield in Friday’s first Class A Semifinal earned the program its first appearance in an MHSAA boys basketball championship game.

The Wolves have had piles of success under Fife, the fourth winningest coach in state hoops history with 676 wins since taking over the program before the 1982-83 season. He’s led Clarkston to 30 District and 12 Regional titles, with Friday’s Semifinal the second during his tenure.

“Coach Fife, I don’t think he’ll admit how much it means to him. But it’s everyone’s goal at the beginning of every season; your ultimate goal is to finish out with a win,” Clarkston junior guard Foster Loyer said. “For Coach Fife, and the community of Clarkston, that would just mean the world to all of us, just motivate us to keep working even more.”

Clarkston (26-1), which entered the postseason tied for No. 3 in The Associated Press’ final regular-season Class A poll, will finish this season against Grand Rapids Christian at noon Saturday at the Breslin Center.

The Semifinal was the third ever in Wolves history. And the rare opportunity to advance to Saturday came with an even rarer opportunity to face a familiar opponent in this late round of the tournament.

Clarkston had beaten West Bloomfield (17-9) by 11 and seven during the regular season on the way to winning the Oakland Activities Association Red championship; the Lakers tied for third in the league.

And they knew what to expect from Loyer, a junior already committed to play at Michigan State. But it didn’t help much this time.

Loyer’s first shot of the game, an attempted layup, sailed over the rim. His second shot, a 3-pointer, touched nothing but net.

Making 10 of 17 shots from the floor and 5 of 8 3-pointers, Loyer finished with 32 points, to go with seven assists. Senior forward Dylan Alderson added 27 points, and sophomore center Taylor Currie had 10 points and 16 rebounds as Clarkston hit 57 percent of its shots from the floor – including an incredible 69 percent during a first quarter that ended with the Wolves carrying a 24-13 lead.

Clarkston took an 18-point advantage into halftime.

Senior guard Kevin McAdoo led the Lakers with 22 points, but as a team they made only 22 percent of their shots from the floor, and had just one steal as Clarkston had only four turnovers but 17 assists.

“It’s a tough one to swallow today, especially with the ride we were on to get here,” said seventh-year West Bloomfield coach Jeremy Denha. “What a fun, fun time to get here with the ups and downs and the way the kids battled. We hadn’t sniffed a District Final, let alone a District title, since I’d been here – we hadn’t won one since 2003. For us to make this magical run, get to Breslin, play Clarkston a third time … yeah, the outcome is disappointing, but it’s about the journey too.”

Fife has been on a lot of these trips. So he'd likely quickly agree with his OAA colleague. And especially with how this journey has a chance to end for the first time.

“I’m not worried about what it means to me. I have an expectation; I’ve always had one no matter what I’m doing. If I’m playing something, I’m going to compete,” Fife said. “The reality is, I dreamed of playing in the state championship when I was in high school. I wanted to get to Jenison. That was always my dream, and I’m just trying to instill in the kids to have the same dream – to play basketball and get to this point. They’ll remember this day the rest of their lives, and tomorrow’s game, regardless of what happens.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clarkston’s Foster Loyer breaks past West Bloomfield defenders to get a shot up during Friday’s first Class A Semifinal. (Middle) The Wolves’ Tieler Houston (15) gets position on West Bloomfield’s Daniel Wrack.

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for

March 17, 2023

Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast year, they nearly played in the Division 3 title game – falling in a Semifinal but almost making a dream come true for the then-juniors and their Lake Leelanau St. Mary coach, Matt Barnowski, also Dylan’s father.

That dream began for some when the boys were coached by Matt as third graders, and they made serious strides last season. Before last winter, the last time the Eagles had won a Regional championship was 1950 – and no St. Mary boys basketball team had reached the Semifinals. Bramer and Dylan Barnowski – along with current seniors Jack Glynn, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar – had high hopes of making more history this winter.

The dream ended Wednesday night with a Regional Final loss to Frankfort, which St. Mary had defeated 54-41 during the regular season. This time, the Eagles were faced with a large number of K-12 students succumbing to illness – with all five of its starters at least somewhat sick – as nearly a third of the school’s tiny enrollment was out of school the day after the loss to the Panthers.

But you won’t hear any of the players or coaches making excuses. They give all the credit to Frankfort, and they’re ready to move on. And many in the LSM family know reaching the Regional Finals this season and Breslin Center in 2022 had absolutely no probability had Bramer and Barnowski not made an iron-clad agreement last summer. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.The two friends vowed to help each other despite their personal, opposing challenges.

Barnowski and Bramer, through LSM’s cooperative agreement with Suttons Bay, went 3-for-3 playing in 8-Player Division 1 Football Finals during their first three years of high school. But through last summer Barnowski, who quarterbacked the Norseman, had no interest in football.  

Bramer, meanwhile, had been nursing a quad tendon injury since his sophomore football season and battling two bad knees but was thinking he could suffer though football and sit out the basketball season to recover. The all-state running back experienced training difficulties and even had his strength training severely hampered.

Football was king for Bramer, and he also loved basketball too. Basketball is number one to Barnowski. The longtime friends decided cut a deal to help each other — and their teammates — out.

“I was kind of on the edge,” said Bramer, who plays with braces on both knees. “After talking to each other, we both ended up just playing. 

“I really shouldn’t be playing sports, but I couldn’t miss out playing with my friends,” he continued. “We just figured it was our last season so we might as well just do it.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. Barnowski had been considering ending his football days immediately after the Norse fell short in their third-straight trip to the Finals, at Superior Dome in Marquette in Fall 2021. That loss was at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian 31-20.

The Norseman graduated most of their offensive and defense lines last spring and expected to be small in numbers. Until this fall, they had lost only one regular-season game on their way to three straight title game appearances. This year they finished 3-5.

The big linemen losses — Barnowski’s protection — was forcing him to weigh his injury risk against having a senior basketball season.

“We did it for each other,” Barnowski said. “I talked with Shawn, and we knew we had a big community behind us and it would be hard for them if we just quit. 

“I knew we weren’t going to have the same powerhouse team we had,” he continued. “We weren’t very good this year, but we still had a blast.”

This week’s loss put an end to the possible Breslin championship finish, but it left the friends happy with the decision to play both sports. The Eagles finished 20-4.

Barnowski led St. Mary in scoring. He averaged better than 20 points a game with more than seven rebounds and five assists. Bramer averaged just under 15 points per game, and almost 10 rebounds.

The two big men each scored 11 in the season-ending loss. Thompson scored 14. This year’s senior-dominated team likely will be remembered for its basketball success for some time. Barnowski, Bramer and Glynn experienced only one loss in District play over their four seasons.

“It’s a really special groups of kids,” Coach Barnowski said. “These kids kind of transformed St. Mary’s basketball.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “They’ve really built the program,” he continued. “It’s been a roller coaster ride.”

Bramer and Dylan Barnowski also played baseball in the past for the Eagles, but that likely won’t happen this spring. Barnowski plans to golf, and Bramer expects to sit the spring season out and heal.

“We’ll never forget these last four years of varsity we played,” Barnowski said. “I‘ve decided to go a more relaxing route, and I’m going for some golf.”

With their Breslin dream over, the friends are ready to enjoy the St. Mary’s community support and move on. They’re bummed so many were sick in the end but won’t use it as an excuse.

“Hats off to Frankfort,” Barnowski said. “They did an incredible job of shutting us down.”

Bramer agreed.

“They just played their game better than we did,” he said. “They took the lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was a battle from there.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) St. Mary’s seniors Dylan Barnowski, left, and Shawn Bramer hold up the team’s District championship trophy last week. (2) Eagles coach Matt Barnowski, center, and assistant Sander Scott coach up their team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick. (3) Dylan Barnowski and Bramer also teamed up during successful football careers. (4) St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Bramer, Jack Glynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. (Sideline photo by Tom Spencer; player photos by Emmerson Lamb Photography.)