Class C: Reaching Higher

March 22, 2012

EAST LANSING – After falling in the first week of the MHSAA tournament last season, there was no way Traverse City St. Francis was going to look ahead to the end of March this winter.

But riding the bus to Breslin Center on Thursday, the reality of this weekend hit senior Sean Sheldon.

The Gladiators were 32 minutes from reaching their first MHSAA boys basketball Final. And now, they’re only 32 more from winning their first championship.

St. Francis earned that opportunity with 63-54 win over No. 8 Shelby in the second Class C Semifinal. The Gladiators will face Flint Beecher in the noon championship game Saturday.

“Last year, we got out of tournament pretty early. It was a big disappointment for us,” Sheldon said. “We looked ahead a little bit, kinda at what we could do. … Now we’re in the Finals, and now 32 minutes from holding up the first ever state title for our school.”

This was St. Francis’ third Semifinal appearance. The Gladiators (25-2) had never before advanced, losing in their last appearance, in 2006, by 29 points to Saginaw Buena Vista.

St. Francis had high hopes last season. But Elk Rapids ended those abruptly in the District Final.

This time, the Gladiators beat all three of their District opponents by at least 31 points, and two more after that by at least 11 before coming up against Shelby – which was making its first Semifinal appearance since 1972, when Tigers’ longtime coach Rick Zoulek was in middle school.

“In the back of my mind, I was always thinking that was a goal of mine,” said Shelby’s David Beckman, Jr., who with Jeremiah James was a four-year varsity player. “It just happened to be the 50-year anniversary, and we actually made that happen. We had 13 guys make that happen.”

And they nearly advanced to their first Final since that same season.

No matter how much St. Francis surged, Shelby hung around – and took a 45-44 lead with 35 seconds left in the third quarter. The Gladiators held just a one-point lead with 5:58 to play.

“You could feel the momentum coming back our way, and we had a few breaks go against us. A couple mistakes. We missed a couple of shots, a turnover here and there,” Zoulek said. “It was really close. It makes you realize how close you really are to being in that final game. Just a couple of plays.”

Some of them came from Sheldon, who scored six of his 16 points over the final six minutes. The Tigers also made just 4 of 11 shots during that time and had three turnovers. They did well breaking St. Francis’ fullcourt press, but struggled to finish at the other end.

Beckman finished with 17 points and James had 12 points and 11 rebounds for Shelby (24-3).

Three others scored in double figures for St. Francis – senior guard Devin Sheehy led with 18 points (and seven assists), while senior center Michael Jenkins added 14 points and sophomore guard Byron Bullough had 11. Sheldon, who has signed with William & Mary, grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.

While the basketball championship game is new ground for St. Francis, winning at this level is not—the Gladiators have won six MHSAA football championships over the last 21 seasons.

It’s definitely a football school by reputation. And that success was a big reason basketball coach Keith Haske took the hoops job before 2010-11 after leading multiple Charlevoix teams to Breslin.

“One of the reasons I was excited about going there was because of football. The kids have the mentality they can be state champions,” Haske said. “When I walked in the first day of practice, I had a group of kids who said that because of football, we can be state champs here. That’s a huge factor, and I don’t think people realize that. Because not only do that believe that, but they put the work into it.”

Click for box score or to watch the game and press conferences at

PHOTO: Traverse City St. Francis' Sean Sheldon had 16 points and 12 rebounds in Thursday's Semifinal win. (Photo courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.

Ferndale Stays Course, Finds Way to Season's Final Day After 57-Year Wait

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 24, 2023

EAST LANSING – The third time was the charm for the Ferndale boys basketball team.

After back-to-back losses in Division 2 Semifinals, the Eagles got over the hump with a 65-60 win over Saginaw on Friday at Breslin Center.

Ferndale used a late 10-0 run to reach the Finals for the first time in 57 years. The top-ranked Eagles will have the opportunity to play for a long-awaited title Saturday against the winner of South Christian and Romulus Summit Academy.

Ferndale last won a boys basketball championship in 1966. 

Trojans coach Juan Rickman said there was a different mindset this year compared to the prior two that ended in setbacks against Grand Rapids Catholic Central. 

“This year they were way more locked in,” he said. “When we got here the first time during COVID, we were playing GRCC right around the corner from their school (at Van Andel Arena) and last year was our first year at the Breslin.

The Eagles’ Christopher Williams dunks during his team’s Semifinal win.

“I  thought we had a lot of emotion last year and we weren't at our best, but this year they knew what to expect and they executed and it was business as usual. It was just another game for us on a bigger floor.”

Ferndale (20-8) started the season 1-5, but always knew its potential to make a tournament run.

“We never panicked throughout the season, and we always said as soon as we get somewhat healthy and as soon as we get our guard play together to play a lot smarter, then we are going to start winning,” Rickman said. “We were losing close games, but our ceiling was so high that I knew we could do that.”

Ferndale nearly squandered its chance for another game after leading by 10 early in the third quarter as Saginaw mounted a second-half rally.

The Trojans led 55-51 in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles scored 10 consecutive points to go up 61-55.

Senior Christopher Williams, who recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, had back-to-back buckets during the run.

“We just stayed the course, just like our season,” Rickman said. “We were up, and then they came back, but we stayed the course.”

Senior Caleb Renfroe led Ferndale with 16 points, while senior Cameron Reed finished with 12 and Jaden Hardiman had 10.

“Chris definitely got going, and when he has a motor he’s hard to stop,” Reed said. “They went on that run, but we knew we had to stay the course. Basketball is a game of runs, so we just had to stay the course and ride the roller coaster.” 

The Eagles led 12-8 after a foul-filled first quarter and extended their advantage to 32-24 at the half. Ferndale took advantage of its opportunities from the free throw line and knocked down 12 of 16 in the first half.

The Trojans (21-7) forged a furious third-quarter surge and outscored Ferndale 22-12 to snare the momentum and the lead, 46-42.

Senior Javarie Holliday scored 15 of his game-high 20 points in the third quarter and was 4 of 8 from beyond the 3-point line.

It was Saginaw’s first trip to the Semifinals since 2013. 

“It was a hard-fought game, and Ferndale came out ready to play,” Trojans coach Julian Taylor said. “I thought we took their best punch in the first half, and we came out ready in the second half. Basketball is a game of spurts and I thought we made our run, but we just made a few mistakes down the line in the fourth quarter that really cost us the game.”

Junior Brandon McCune added 17 points for Saginaw. He knocked down five 3-pointers.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Ferndale’s Cameron Reed (0) pushes the pace as Saginaw’s DaRon Sherman (2) trails Friday. (Middle) The Eagles’ Christopher Williams dunks during his team’s Semifinal win.