By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A team that appeared in last season’s Class D championship game will be back at the Breslin Center this weekend – but not three-time reigning champion Powers North Central, which was eliminated in a District Semifinal earlier this month.
Instead, 2017 runner-up Buckley will return with nearly an identical cast to the one that lost only one game a season ago – in the Final. Back as well is Southfield Christian, an annual power which put a huge scare into North Central – the Jets beat the Eagles on a buzzer-beater in last year’s Semifinal.
But to play for a championship, those two repeat contenders will face tough challenges. Southfield Christian takes on another Upper Peninsula power in Dollar Bay, while Buckley faces Hillsdale Academy and its formidable frontcourt.
Class D Semifinals – Thursday
Dollar Bay (26-0) vs. Southfield Christian (21-4), 5:30 p.m.
Hillsdale Academy (24-2) vs. Buckley (20-5), 7:30 p.m.
Class D Final – Saturday, 10 a.m.
Tickets cost $10 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session (Class D and Class A). All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv 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 FoxSportsDetroit.com and the FOX Sports Go! app. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.
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.)
Record/rank: 20-5, No. 8
League finish: Tied for first in Northwest Conference
Coach: Blair Moss, fifth season (73-24)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2017.
Best wins: 67-50 over No. 3 (tie) Hillman in Quarterfinal, 79-34 and 68-40 over honorable mention Onekama, 73-59 and 68-51 over Class C No. 5 Maple City Glen Lake, 62-60 over Class C honorable mention Manton.
Players to watch: Austin Harris, 6-3 sr. F (17 ppg, 4.8 apg); Denver Cade, 6-3 sr. F (16.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.1 apg); Joey Weber, 5-11 sr. G (14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 3.0 spg).
Outlook: A trio of 1,000-point career scorers (listed above) have Buckley back at Breslin after they led the Bears to their first Semifinal and championship game run a year ago. In fact, senior forward Brock Beeman and junior forward Ridge Beeman fill out a starting lineup identical to the one that took the floor against Powers North Central in last year’s Final. Buckley started 3-3 this winter against a loaded schedule and shared the Northwest Conference title with Glen Lake and No. 6 Frankfort. During the postseason, Hillman is the only opponent that has come closer than 20 points of catching the Bears.
Record/rank: 26-0, No. 2
League finish: First in Copper Mountain Conference Copper Country
Coach: Jesse Kentala, 11th season (85-132)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 74-68 over honorable mention Cedarville in Quarterfinal, 63-60 over No. 10 Rapid River in Regional Semifinal, 51-42 over No. 5 Ewen-Trout Creek.
Players to watch: Devin Schmitz, 6-0 sr. G; Jaden Janke, 6-5 sr. C. (Statistics not submitted).
Outlook: Dollar Bay has made quite a march to emerge as a possible heir apparent after North Central’s three straight Class D titles coming down from the Upper Peninsula. This will be the Blue Bolts’ first trip to the Semifinals after they played in their first Quarterfinal since 1979. Only 10-10 two seasons ago, Dollar Bay improved to 19-5 last year before falling to North Central by two points in a Regional Semifinal. Schmitz is considered arguably the top player in program history and broke the career scoring record this winter.
Record/rank: 24-2, No. 9
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association East
Coach: Tim Wells, fourth season (72-24)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 56-49 over honorable mention Adrian Lenawee Christian in Regional Final, 56-46 over No. 3 (tie) Bellevue, 58-42 (District Final), 60-39 and 57-40 over Camden-Frontier.
Players to watch: Peter Kalthoff, 6-7 sr. C (21.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.7 bpg); Michael Craig, 5-11 sr. G (13 ppg, 2.6 apg).
Outlook: Hillsdale Academy’s first trip to the Quarterfinals and now Semifinals has included the win over Lenawee Christian – to avenge one of the Colts’ two losses – and no other game closer than 16 points. Their only other defeat this winter came to neighbor Hillsdale High, a Class B school. Kalthoff is a force, making 67 percent of his field goals tries, but six players have scored at least 13 points in a game this season. Senior forward Nolan Sullivan and sophomore forward Lukas Tharp both add about eight points per game.
Record/rank: 21-4, No. 1
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Coach: Josh Baker, seventh season (132-23)
Championship history: Class D champions 2014, 2013 and 2012.
Best wins: 88-53 over Flint International Academy in Quarterfinal, 79-50 (Regional Semifinal), 72-22 and 56-39 over honorable mention Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 68-45 over Class B No. 4 River Rouge, 65-60 over Detroit Martin Luther King.
Players to watch: Bryce Washington, 6-3 jr. G (21.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg); Harlond Beverly, 6-4 jr. G (16 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.4 apg).
Outlook: Southfield Christian’s return to the Semifinals last season after a two-year hiatus ended with a one-point overtime loss to eventual champion North Central. The Eagles’ return three starters from that game – Washington, Beverly and junior guard Caleb Hunter (13.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.4 spg, 57 3-pointers.). Again playing a schedule loaded with larger schools, Southfield Christian lost this winter only to Class A West Bloomfield, Class B Detroit Country Day and Class C Detroit Edison and Detroit Pershing; all but West Bloomfield won at least District titles this month.
PHOTO: Buckley’s Joey Weber brings the ball upcourt during last season’s Class D championship game at the Breslin Center.
TEMPERANCE – The Bedford Mules are kicking up a special boys basketball season in southeast Michigan.
Temperance Bedford is off to a 10-1 start, the best for the school in a decade. Third-year coach Jordan Bollin is happy to bring a winner to his alma mater.
“Bedford has had good teams here and there and good players and coaches, but it never seemed to be anything that was sustained,” Bollin said. “I knew it was going to be a challenge.”
Bollin played varsity basketball at Bedford, graduating in 2006. He went into coaching almost immediately after high school and was named head coach at Dundee in 2015. After 68 wins in five seasons, Bollin was named head coach at Bedford.
“I talked it over with my wife, with the athletic director, with (assistant coach) Mark Hubbard,” Bollin said. “I always, in the back of my mind, thought that I would want to come back to Bedford and coach one day. I wanted to do it while I was still relatively a young coach who still had the passion for all of this. It’s the right time.
“I felt like, leaving Dundee, I had an opportunity to build something myself.”
Wrestling has been the winter sports king at Bedford for decades as the Mules spent years at the top of Class A/Division 1 wrestling circles. The boys basketball team has enjoyed its moments, such as a three-year span when it went 18-6, 18-5 and 14-8 across 2012-2014, but there have been down years, too. Various coaches have tried their hand at the helm, including former NBA player Dennis Hopson.
Bollin himself played for coach Bill Ryan, who led the boys team for seven years but has found ultra-success with Bedford’s girls basketball program.
Bollin knew that when he took over the varsity, he wanted to incorporate the entire program.
“No program is one coach,” he said.
He brought multiple assistants with him from Dundee, including longtime Monroe County coach Hubbard, a Bedford graduate, and former head coach in the county himself. The two have formed a bond.
“We talk every day on the phone before practice,” Bollin said. “We go to lunch once or twice a week. He’s a mentor and someone I talk to all the time.”
Bedford has posted wins over a variety of teams this season, from Southeastern Conference teams like Dexter and Monroe to Ottawa Lake Whiteford, Adrian Lenawee Christian and Stockbridge. Ten of the Mules’ final 11 games are against SEC schools, including two against 8-3 Saline.
Bollin knows the toughest is yet to come.
“We get Ann Arbor Huron at home,” he said. “We lost to them by three on the road. We had the ball, down two in the final seconds and had the ball and were called for a travel. It was close.”
Six-foot-7 Andrew Hollinger is the team’s top scorer and rebounder. Four years ago, he played five games on the varsity, then was a starter in Bollin’s first season. He’s now closing in on 1,000 career points and is one of the best rebounders in southeast Michigan.
“He’s phenomenal,” Bollin said. “He plays so hard, and he’s a great kid. He’s a 4.0 student and very humble. You’ll never hear him talk about himself; it’s always about the team.”
While he’s proven to be a great scorer and free throw shooter this season, Hollinger is also a relentless rebounder.
“I’ve always been one of the tallest out on the court, so I know that I can really use that to my advantage in order to rebound,” he said. “Once the shot goes up, I try to chase down the ball or box someone out in order to give my team the chance to get the ball back.”
Bollin said Hollinger’s intensity shows.
“I use him as an example to the other kids all of the time,” Bollin said.
Twice this season Hollinger has set the school record for most consecutive free throws made in a game. He went 15-for-15 once and 16-for-16 another time. Hollinger averaged a double-double last year at 18.2 points and 10.8 rebounds and has topped those numbers through 11 games this season.
Hollinger is one of eight seniors on the roster. Like Bollin, he’s a homegrown talent, having made his way up from the Bedford Community Education program in the fourth grade to middle school, JV and varsity.
“I fell in love with basketball when I played in the local community ed program,” he said.
Hollinger said all of the seniors had a feeling this was going to be a great season.
“I think the success from our team comes from how hard we play every game and how much experience we have,” he said. “We knew coming into the season that we were in pretty much every game the season before and just had to find a way to start winning games.”
Bedford won six games during the COVID-19 shortened 2020-21 season and four a year ago – losing several games that came down to the final minute. Bollin has matched the win total in those first two years at Bedford in two months.
Ironically, Bollin said, it was the 2020-21 season during which most of this year’s seniors learned to play varsity basketball.
“We had so many games where we had players out for COVID that we had to bring a lot of them up to the varsity to play,” he said. “A lot of the seniors this year got a ton of playing time that year.”
The other current seniors include Griffin Wolf, Tommy Huss, Jimmy Fackelman, Simon Eighmey, Caleb Kochendoerfer, Evan Campbell, and Leo Wagenhauser. They are complimented by a couple sophomores and juniors plus freshman Carsen Behnke.
Hollinger is hopeful the first-half success will continue.
“We all believed in each other in the offseason, and that belief still continues through the start of the season,” he said, deflecting any attention from himself. “I love how basketball is a team game and how you need the whole team to be playing hard in order to win. It’s not just about one person, but it’s about everyone.”
Bollin said he could sense this summer that this season had the makings of being something special.
“I thought we’d have a nice season, but, no, I wasn’t expecting 10-1,” he said. “But, in the summer, I knew when everyone was there and together, we were tough to beat.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Bedford’s Andrew Hollinger works for an opening while surrounded by Monroe defenders last season. (Middle) Bedford boys basketball coach Jordan Bollin. (Below) Hollinger brings the Mules up court during a 63-43 win Friday. (Action photos by Tom Hawley and Mike Doughty, respectively, and courtesy of the Monroe News.)