Class A-B Preview: Chasing Favorites

March 25, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Similar to the Class C and D Semifinals to be played Thursday, Friday's Class A and B games will feature five teams aspiring to win their first MHSAA championships.

But the field also includes four teams that advanced to Breslin Center in 2014, the undefeated top-ranked team in Class A and the reigning champion from Class B complete with its heroes from last season's run. 

All four Class A and B Semifinals will be played Friday, with all four championship games Saturday. 

Semifinals - Friday
Class A

Lansing Everett (24-2) vs. Saginaw Arthur Hill (23-3), 1 p.m. 
Detroit U-D Jesuit (22-3) vs. Detroit Western International (24-0), 2:50 p.m.

Class B
Milan (24-2) vs. Wyoming Godwin Heights (24-1), 6 p.m. 
Cadillac (18-8) vs. Detroit Henry Ford (20-5), 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, the Class D and A title games on FOX Sports Detroit's primary channel and the Class C and B games on FOX Sports Detroit-PLUS. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on

And now, a look at the semifinalists in Class A and B. 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.)

Class A

22-3, No. 8.
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central.
Coach: Pat Donnelly, seventh season (115-42).
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 56-54 over No. 5 Clarkston in the Quarterfinal, 52-34 over No. 10 North Farmington in the Regional Final, 72-57 over No. 6 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 69-56 over Class B No. 1 Milan.
Players to watch: Cassius Winston, 6-1 jr. G (22.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.7 apg); Gary Collins, 6-2 sr. G (9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.6 apg).  
Outlook: Jesuit will attempt to take the next two steps after winning its first Regional title and making the Semifinals last season with Winston also the leading scorer on that team. Although in a 58-49 loss to end the regular season, Jesuit has faced Semifinal opponent Western, which should be beneficial, and also defeated Arthur Hill on Feb. 7. The only other defeats were to Romulus and Catholic League Central runner-up Birmingham Brother Rice.

24-0, No. 1.
League finish: First in Detroit Public School League West D1 and overall.
Coach: Derrick McDowell, fourth season (46-35).
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 58-49 over No. 8 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 69-57 over No. 6 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 72-55 over Class B honorable mention Detroit Henry Ford.
Players to watch: Brailen Neely, 5-10 jr. G (15.9 ppg, 4.3 apg); Josh McFolley, 6-1 sr. G (14.5 ppg, 3.2 apg).
Outlook: This has been a season of milestones for Western under former Detroit Redford coach McDowell. The Cowboys won their first Detroit PSL championship since 1922 and will play in their first Semifinal since 1974. They’ve beaten two of the three teams left in Class A and present a variety of challenges to opponents this weekend – including 6-8 senior center Gerald Blackshear, averaging 11.8 points and 5.2 blocks per game.

24-2, No. 9.
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue.
Coach: Desmond Ferguson, third season (36-33).
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2004).
Best wins: 75-52 over No. 2 Muskegon in the Quarterfinal, 91-78 over No. 7 Kalamazoo Central in the Regional Final, 82-77 over honorable mention Ann Arbor Huron in the Regional Semifinal, 57-51 (District Final) and 82-78 over honorable mention Grand Ledge, 64-57 over Class B No. 10 Benton Harbor.
Players to watch: Trevor Manuel, 6-9 sr. F; Jamyrin Jackson, 6-3 jr. G. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: The Vikings have played their way through a strong field after going only 5-16 a year ago; they’ve also avenged both losses from the season's first half, to Grand Ledge and Kalamazoo Central. Manuel was part of a Class B championship team at Lansing Sexton as a freshman before transferring out-of-state as a junior and then moving back to Michigan last summer. He finished third in the Mr. Basketball voting and has signed to play at the University of Oregon next season.

23-3, No. 6.
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley Association North.
Coach: Greg McMath, 13th season (251-52).
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2006), five runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 78-59 over Walled Lake Central in the Quarterfinal, 88-66, 90-81 and 83-47 (District Semifinal) over Saginaw, 67-62 over Class B No. 7 Flint Northwestern.
Players to watch: Eric Davis, 6-3 sr. G; Brian Bowen II, 6-7 soph. F; De’Quevion Johnson, 6-4 sr. F. (Statistics not submitted).  
Outlook: Arthur Hill enters under the rare scenario of having played all three teams also left in the Class A bracket. Although those three teams dealt the Lumberjacks their losses, Arthur Hill will be plenty prepared for rematches. Davis, who will play next season at the University of Texas, was the Mr. Basketball runner-up. The Lumberjacks are in the Semifinals for the first time since 2006, having dispatched familiar postseason foe Saginaw High during the District.

Class B

18-8, unranked.
League finish: Fourth in the Big North Conference.
Coach: Ryan Benzenberg, first season (18-8).
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 59-50 over Essexville-Garber in the Quarterfinal, 48-36 over Petoskey, 50-44 over Class C honorable mention McBain.
Players to watch: Andrew Emington, 6-1 sr. G (12.8 ppg, 36 3-pointers); Quinn Crago, 6-6 jr. C (9.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg).
Outlook: Cadillac is back at the Semifinals for the third straight season and first under Benzenberg, who formerly coached Fife Lake Forest Area and lower levels at Elk Rapids. The Vikings are 13-2 over their last 15 games after a tough start in the mostly-Class A Big North Conference. Emington brings some experience back to Breslin after averaging just fewer than 10 points per game last season.

20-5, honorable mention.
League finish: Second in Detroit PSL West D1.
Coach: Kenneth Flowers, eighth season (108-59).
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 61-55 over No. 2 New Haven in the Quarterfinal, 80-73 over Class A honorable mention Ann Arbor Huron, 54-51 over Class C No. 1 Flint Beecher, 59-54 over Class C honorable mention Detroit Loyola.
Players to watch: Joshua Davis, 6-5 sr. F (17 ppg, 6.8 rpg); James Towns, 6-0 jr. G (16.5 ppg, 3.5 apg).
Outlook: Henry Ford is at the Semifinals for the first time, having played in only one other Quarterfinal (1984) before Tuesday’s defeat of previously-undefeated New Haven. Ford bounced back from two straight sub-.500 records with its first District title since 2009 and finished second in its league only to Detroit Western International. The team has only three seniors, including 6-1 guard Antaun Carter, who adds another offensive threat scoring 8.5 points per game.

24-2, No. 1.
League finish: First in Huron League.
Coach: Chris Pope, first season (24-2).
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2014).
Best wins: 69-60 over No. 9 Otsego in the Quarterfinal, 54-43 and 65-49 over Class C No. 9 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central.
Players to watch: Latin Davis, 6-0 sr. G (19.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.6 apg); Nick Perkins, 6-9 sr. C (16.8 ppg, 8.9 rpg). 
Outlook: Milan was a feel-good story of last season’s Finals, winning its first championship since 1948. The main change this winter was the coach – longtime assistant Pope took over a squad returning top scorers Davis and Perkins and a third starter from last season’s championship game, 6-4 senior forward Lance Lewis. He adds another 7.3 points per game, and senior guard Thomas Lindeman chips in 7.9. Davis has signed to play next season at Youngstown State University, and Perkins has signed with the University of Buffalo.  

24-1, No. 3.
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver.
Coach: Tyler Whittemore, first season (24-1).
Championship history: Two MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 1960).
Best wins: 63-56 over No. 6 Wayland in the District Final, 76-39 over honorable mention Alma in the Regional Semifinal, 75-61 over No. 9 Otsego, 65-55 over Class A No. 10 North Farmington, 62-53 over Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian.
Players to watch: Delaney Blaylock, 6-5 sr. G (16.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg); Michael Williams, 6-4 sr. F (10.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg).
Outlook: Godwin Heights is seeking its first championship game appearance in more than a half-century, but has been circling for some time with three straight Quarterfinals and now two Semifinal berths in three seasons. The team lost only to league rival NorthPointe Christian, a Class C semifinalist, and avenged that loss. The Wolverines make nearly 50 percent of their shots from the floor and get another 9.8 points per game from junior guard Leon Redd, one of five averaging at least 8.3. Blaylock also started in the team’s 2013 Semifinal, and Whittemore, a first-year head coach, was the varsity assistant for seven seasons before the promotion.

PHOTO: Saginaw Arthur Hill standout Eric Davis drives to the hoop during his team’s Regional win over Davison. (Click to see more at

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.)