EAST LANSING – The Grand Rapids Catholic Central boys basketball team was heartbroken when it lost in overtime by a single point to Benton Harbor in the 2018 Class B Final.
A second-half push Saturday guaranteed there wouldn't be any stressful final moments this time around at Breslin Center.
The Cougars secured the program’s first MHSAA Finals championship with a 77-54 win over Battle Creek Pennfield in the season's closing game, the Division 2 finale.
Catholic Central finished 20-0 and erased the disappointing memories of three years ago.
“A lot of guys from that (2018) team sent us a lot of messages over the last couple days about finishing what they started,” Cougars coach T.J. Meerman said. “So that was our mission tonight.”
Former Catholic Central star and current Michigan State player Marcus Bingham was in attendance to root his alma mater on.
“This is amazing,” said junior Jack Karasinski, who scored 18 points as one of four Cougars scoring in double figures.
“To see Marcus, and how it ended for him, we just wanted to get it done for our guys. I want to give praise to our coach. Sometimes I don’t think he sleeps. He walks in with an energy drink every day, so he wanted this one bad. I’m glad we got it done for him.”
Sophomore Kaden Brown sparked the Cougars and finished with a game-high 25 points. Freshman Durral Brooks had 10 points and 11 rebounds, while junior Jorden Brooks chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds.
“I love my guys and the coaches and it feels great to be able to come out and finish the season like this,” Brown said. “This was our goal from the start, and it feels great to come out and finish it how we wanted.”
An entertaining first half included seven lead changes and seven ties.
The score was 13-13 at the end of the first quarter, and a pair of free throws from Pennfield’s Aiden Burns with one second left in the second quarter knotted the game again at 31-31.
The Panthers took a 34-33 lead before Catholic Central used its trademark spurt to retake the lead and pull away.
Over a span of four minutes, the Cougars went on a 14-2 run and snared a 48-36 lead they never relinquished.
“I thought our guys bounced back in the second half with a lot of energy and a lot of fight,” Meerman said. “We were able to outlast them, and that’s been our motto all year. Defend, rebound and run, and that took over in the second half for us.”
Pennfield coach Nate Burns, whose team was making its first trip to the Finals, was mindful of Catholic Central’s ability to score in bunches quickly.
“Looking at film on them, they live off of their spurts,” Burns said. “And we knew coming in that we had to try and limit the damage of those spurts. They just happen so fast, and we thought we could withstand it, but then all of a sudden they are up by 10 and you try to regroup and they come with another wave.
“They have been doing that to everyone all year and we were hoping to be the exception tonight, but they got us.”
Junior guard Luke Davis helped the Panthers (21-3) stay close in the first half and finished with 17 points and four assists.
Senior Ryne Petersen added 11 points, and Aiden Burns had nine points and four rebounds.
“This group, led by our three captains, did everything they needed to do this season,” Nate Burns said. “This is the best team in school history.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Durral Brooks (10, with ball) works into the lane with Pennfield’s Aiden Burns (10), Shawn Gardner (24) and Ryne Petersen (23) defending. (Middle) The Panthers’ Gavin Liggett (3) gets a hand up on a shot by Catholic Central’s Jorden Brooks (23). Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Matt and Derek Seidl have a lot to talk about these days.
The father and son duo both have highly-ranked, undefeated basketball teams going into the first full week of February, something neither of them saw coming.
“We were hoping for a season like this, but you never think about winning this many in a row,” said Matt Seidl, the father and head coach of the 15-0 Olivet Eagles. “When our season ended last year, we knew our top seven players would all be returning.”
About 50 miles south of Olivet, in Jackson County, Derek Seidl has the Napoleon Pirates off to a 14-0 start. They are sitting on top of the Cascades Conference.
“We have a really talented group right now,” Derek said. “We were 19-3 last year and brought six guys back. Having that experience has been very valuable.”
Olivet is ranked No. 2 in MPR in Division 2 while Napoleon is No. 9 in Division 3. Both are top-10 teams in the latest Associated Press polls as well.
Matt Seidl, 60, graduated from Ypsilanti Lincoln High School in 1981 and went to Eastern Michigan University to become a sportswriter. He didn’t begin teaching until he was in his early 30s, but, by then, was already a veteran coach.
“It was getting difficult because I was always leaving my job to go coach,” he said. “I decided to go and get my teaching degree.”
He wound up in the classroom, which enabled him to dive deeper into coaching. He spent several years coaching at the middle school and high school levels, boys and girls, with stops at places like Pinckney, Ypsilanti, Manchester, Willow Run and Romulus. He was the JV boys basketball coach at Dexter when his son, Derek, made the team as a freshman.
By then, Derek already knew he would be on the bench one day as a coach.
“I played for my dad in youth travel stuff, and he was on staff for one year my freshmen year of high school,” Derek said. “He was a varsity coach all growing up. I was always at games. I loved talking to him about the game, the strategy of it, the Xs and Os. Even when I was younger, I thought about coaching someday. Growing up if you would have asked me what my dream job was, it would have been a teacher and coach.”
Derek, 27, graduated from Dexter in 2014. He played four years of college basketball at Lawrence Tech University. After getting his master’s degree and teaching degree, he got his first coaching job as an assistant coach at Chelsea, under Josh Tropea, who also had coached with Matt.
Derek’s first teaching and head coaching job came at Springport in 2019-20. This is his third year at Napoleon.
“It’s been a really good fit here,” Derek said. “Before I started looking into the job, I barely knew anything about Napoleon. It has worked out well.”
Matt is also the athletic director at Olivet. If he would have had his way, Derek would be coaching at Olivet.
“Derek did a really good job at Springport, and we had an opening and he interviewed and was recommended for the job, but before they offered it to him, Napoleon hired him,” Matt said. “He would have been the perfect choice to teach math and coach basketball.”
With Derek no longer in the running, Matt came out of coaching retirement and was named head coach.
“It was going to be a one-year deal, sort of a band-aid to get us to the next year,” he said.
Instead, Matt’s stayed on and put together quite a successful team. The Eagles have gone 47-6 since the start of the 2020-21 season. This year’s team has taken a big step.
Junior Bo Lincoln, a 5-foot-11 junior point guard, leads the team in scoring (17.1 points per game), assists (3.6 per game), steals (3.0 per game) and free throw percentage at 78 percent.
Drew Priddy, a 6-5 senior center, is averaging about eight points and seven rebounds a game, and junior guard Bryce Wine is averaging nine points a game and leads the team in 3-pointers.
“We had quite the youth movement a few years ago,” Matt said. “We go 8-9 deep now and have a lot of experience. Having those young guys play a couple years ago is paying off.
“We are a good team, but we’re not a 70-possessions-a-game type of team. We know who we are.”
Derek also knows plenty about his dad’s team.
“I definitely keep track of them,” he said. “We talk on the phone on a daily basis – 30 minutes about Napoleon and 30 minutes about Olivet. We bounce things off each other. We run a lot of the same stuff as far as systems. We’re very connected on things.”
Matt and Derek’s teams tried to have a good old-fashioned scrimmage, or exhibition, last year but – with Derek’s team ahead – Matt received two technicals and got kicked out of the game. It’s a fun story for both to tell now.
“That was wild,” Derek said. “It was a cool thing we had going. We were winning so I was enjoying it, but that put a whole different spin on the situation.”
Matt said they probably won’t do that again. Probably.
“My wife said no,” he said. “Derek and I have talked about it, but I don’t know that it would ever happen.”
Derek said one day he’d like to coach with his father.
“I’m very energetic and into it, just like he is,” Derek said. “There are some similarities. I played for him and watched him a lot. I try and pull some of the things he does, being prepared. We get along super well. I don’t know if I could trust him to not get technical fouls.”
He’s kidding, of course.
Napoleon has a core group of four players with a ton of experience.
Devonta Habern is a 5-11 junior who is on the varsity for the third year and runs the show at point guard. Six-foot-5 senior Trent Jester is one of the best big men in the conference. University of Michigan baseball commit Grant Bradley is a three-year varsity starter and outstanding athlete. Holden Vanpoppel is an all-state track athlete who has turned into a pretty good basketball player.
“Grant is super steady and having a great year,” Derek said. “He looks like he’s been in the weight room since he was 5 years old. He can guard anybody. Vanpoppel is an unbelievable run and jump athlete. All four of these guys are averaging in double figures. They are really good athletes who have invested in the program and put the time in.”
“We’ve got a very talented group,” Derek said. “They are a little looser than I am. I tend to be very calculated, kind of analytical and serious. They like to goof around a little bit. They keep me even-keeled. They know when to get serious. It’s good for me to have a group like that.”
Derek said his squad wants to exceed expectations this year.
“We talk about that after every game – don’t be satisfied just because we are undefeated,” Derek said. “There is plenty more to accomplish. Last year we went 18-2 in the regular season and 19-3 overall, but we didn’t win a league or a District. Our guys have bought into that mindset. That’s helped us get to where we are.”
Matt is keeping a close eye on not only his team, but Derek’s as well.
“I probably get more stressed watching his games,” he said. “I’m really proud of what he has been able to do.”
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) Father Matt, left, and son Derek Seidl are leading undefeated boys basketball teams this season at Olivet and Napoleon, respectively. (Middle) Senior Brayden Wine makes a move toward the basket for the Eagles. (Below) Derek Seidl instructs his players. (Olivet photos courtesy of Olivet High School; Napoleon photos by Jeff Steers/JTV.)