Class B Preview: Can't-Miss Matchups

March 21, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Class B could feature the most entertaining matchups of this weekend’s Boys Basketball Finals at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

From one side of the bracket will emerge a longtime power – Benton Harbor, seeking its first title in more than a half century, or 14-time winner River Rouge.

On the other side, reigning champion New Haven is coming off its first MHSAA title and looking to repeat led by star junior Romeo Weems – who will surely get some time facing Grand Rapids Catholic Central standout Marcus Bingham, Jr., as the latter works to lead his team to its first Finals championship in this sport.

Class B Semifinals – Friday
Benton Harbor (25-1) vs. River Rouge (23-1), 5:30 p.m. 
New Haven (26-0) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (23-2), 7:30 p.m.

Class B Final – Saturday, 6:45 p.m.

Tickets cost $10 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session (Class C and Class B). All Semifinals will be streamed live on and viewable on a pay-per-view basis. The Class D, A and C championship games will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit, while the Class B Final will be shown on Fox Sports Detroit on a delayed basis at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. All four championship games will be streamed live on and the FOX Sports Go! app. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on

Below is a glance at all four semifinalists. 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.)

25-1, No. 3
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Corey Sterling, sixth season (112-37)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 1965), seven runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 71-51 over No. 8 Williamston in Quarterfinal, 67-52 over honorable mention Hudsonville Unity Christian in Regional Semifinal, 77-49 (District Semifinal) and 55-46 over honorable mention Coloma.
Players to watch: Carlos Johnson, 6-6 soph. F (18.3 ppg, 13.1 rpg, 5.2 apg, 3.1 bpg); Shawn Hopkins, 6-4 sr. F (15.7 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 3.1 apg).
Outlook: Benton Harbor was Class B runner-up in 2014 and made the Semifinals a year ago, and Johnson and Hopkins starred for last season’s team as well. Senior guard Elijah Baxter (9.7 ppg, 6.7 apg) also started last season. Senior guards Dennie Brown and Devan Nichols both average just above 10 ppg as well, and total six players this winter average at least 8.8. The only loss was to Class A Hazel Park, which finished 18-3.

23-2, No. 7
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue
Coach: T.J. Meerman, fifth season (73-43) 
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 63-52 (Regional Semifinal), 80-39 and 59-40 over honorable mention Spring Lake, 73-49 over Grand Rapids Christian, 90-84 over Detroit Country Day.
Players to watch: Marcus Bingham, Jr., 6-11 sr. F (16.8 ppg, 10 rpg, 3.7 bpg); Jacob Polakovich, 6-8 sr. F (14.2 ppg, 10.5 ppg).
Outlook: GRCC has won at least 20 games for the second straight season and upped its win total the last four under Meerman on the way to its first Semifinal since 1992. Bingham was a Mr. Basketball Award finalist and is plenty to handle – but he has lots of help as well. In addition to Polakovich in the post, junior guard Darrell Belcher is putting up 14 points per game, and junior guard Austin Braun is averaging 7.8 points and 7.5 assists per game.

26-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Blue
Coach: Tedaro France II, 10th season (185-57)
Championship history: Class B champion 2017. 
Best wins: 78-72 over No. 5 Bridgeport in Quarterfinal, 92-74 over Detroit Country Day in Regional Final, 81-70 over Class C honorable mention Flint Beecher, 82-62 over Warren DeLaSalle, 74-57 over St. Clair Shores South Lake.
Players to watch: Romeo Weems, 6-7 jr. G/F (23.5 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 5.7 apg, 5.1 spg, 2.5 bpg), Tavares Oliver, Jr., 6-0 sr. G (16.8 ppg, 3.2 apg, 65 3-pointers).
Outlook: New Haven is in the Semifinals for the second straight season and second time ever – and has won 52 straight games. Weems nearly had a quintuple-double this season and will be one of the most anticipated players for fans this weekend. Senior forward Ashton Sherrell (15.7 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and junior guard Ronald Jeffery III (12 ppg, 3.1 apg) round out the majority of an offense outscoring opponents by 32 points per game.

23-1, No. 4
League finish: First in Michigan Metro Athletic Conference Blue
Coach: Mark White, second season (47-3)
Championship history: 14 MHSAA titles (most recent 1999), five runner-up finishes. 
Best wins: 50-43 over honorable mention Detroit Old Redford in Regional Final, 59-44 over Dearborn Divine Child in Quarterfinal, 75-32 over St. Clair Shores South Lake in Regional Semifinal, 48-42, 56-45 and 77-45 over Harper Woods. Players to watch: Jayvien Torrance-Jackson, 6-1 sr. G; Bralin Toney, 5-10 jr. G. (Statistics not submitted.).
Outlook: River Rouge is back at the Semifinals for the second straight season and after a one-point overtime last time loss kept it from a first championship game berth since 1999. Torrance-Jackson not only is the only starter back from that team, but also the only senior on this one. Toney also saw time off the bench in last season’s Semifinal and joins him in the backcourt, while the frontcourt includes two 6-6 post players. The lone loss this winter was to Class D semifinalist Southfield Christian.

PHOTO: New Haven’s Romeo Weems puts up a block as Bridgeport’s Charles Garrett drives during Tuesday’s Quarterfinal. (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.)