By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Either way late in Friday night’s Division 4 Semifinal, Frankfort was headed to the record book.
For most of the first three quarters, it seemed the Panthers were cruising toward reaching the MHSAA championship round for the first time.
Then, over six minutes of game time, they found themselves running the risk of being on the wrong end of the largest comeback in Finals weekend history.
After senior Ethan Ness’ free throw with eight seconds left on the clock, and then one more stop on the other end of the court, Frankfort emerged with a 44-43 win over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian to reach the final day of the season for the first time in this sport.
The Panthers will take on Southfield Christian in Saturday’s first Final at 10 a.m., after a day to recover from also watching a 23-point lead dissolve between the third and fourth quarters.
“We trust our teammates. If we go down, we get ready, we get back up, and we trust everyone on this team,” Frankfort sophomore guard Jack Stefanski said. “Everyone is here for a reason. We’ll fight through anything.
“This has never happened in Frankfort history for boys, and no one thought we’d be good this year. … We knew we had to step up this year, with a new coach and new players. We had to start our legacy, and this is how we started.”
And for all the reasons mentioned above, it was unforgettable.
Frankfort (21-5) did graduate its top six players from last season, and coach Dan Loney did take the program over this winter after previously serving as an assistant. The Panthers did finish second in the annually-strong Northwest Conference – but then lost to sub-.500 Buckley in the regular-season finale and needed overtime wins twice to get to Breslin Center.
Thursday’s start, against a Tri-unity program with four Class D championships and four more runner-up finishes, was truly impressive. In part with a 10-0 run to finish the first half, Frankfort took a 26-12 advantage into the break, then opened the third quarter with nine more consecutive points to make it 35-12 with 2:22 to go in the period.
But longtime Tri-unity coach Mark Keeler had a card or two left to play – namely, a defensive press that contributed to 10 Frankfort turnovers over an ensuing 27-2 comeback.
“I’ve had that happen before, having coached as long as I have. The key is we need to focus on defense – but saying it and doing it are two different things,” said Keeler, who has led the team to 599 wins over 32 seasons.
“When we went to the press … they finally made up their minds that they wanted to give it everything they had. All of a sudden they were focused on defense, not focused on offense, and that takes the pressure off. You relax, and all of a sudden you’re getting shots to fall.”
The Defenders (22-4) took a 39-37 lead on senior Elijah Badgero’s basket with 4:08 to play.
But like in nine other games won by six or fewer points this season, Frankfort came through. First, senior guard Will Newbold tied the score with 3:26 to play. Ness gave the Panthers a three-point lead at 2:39 with a long-range shot, and Newbold made the margin four with a free throw with 55 seconds left.
They needed every one of those points, as Tri-unity senior Brayden Ophoff and freshman Brady Titus sunk buckets to bring the score even at 43-43 with 20 seconds to play. But Ness was fouled on the next possession and connected on one of two free-throw tries to take back the lead once more. A group of Panthers held their ground in the lane on Tri-unity’s final attempt for the win, and Frankfort celebrated.
“I’m not sure why it keeps coming down to this,” Loney said. “We knew they would make a run at some point tonight. It was not going to be a blowout by any means. When they brought that full court pressure, it rattled the guys a little bit.
“(But) these guys have found ways to win close games all year. They’re a resilient bunch, no matter what the score is. I can’t tell you guys how many close games we’ve had like this this year, and these kids have stepped up to the plate and ended with a win.”
Newbold led the Panthers with 16 points and four steals. Ness finished with 11 points and six rebounds, Stefanski had seven points and 13 rebounds and senior forward Jack Reznich had five assists and six rebounds.
Senior Bennett Sinner led Tri-unity with 16 points and six steals, and grabbed eight rebounds. Badgero had 10 points and 13 rebounds.
PHOTOS: (Top) Frankfort’s Ethan Ness (22) sets up the offense while Brady Titus defends. (Middle) Jack Stefanski (0) looks for an open teammate Thursday with Brayden Ophoff applying pressure.
Foster Loyer’s four-season career at Clarkston from 2014-15 through 2017-18 certainly must be considered among the most accomplished in state history as he led the Wolves to back-to-back Class A championships in 2017 and 2018 and is listed in the record book 25 times.
Among Loyer’s most notable entries were 2,325 career points (12th most), 272 career 3-pointers (tied for ninth), records of 119 consecutive free throws and 634 career free throws, a .921 free-throw percentage as a junior (tied for fourth) and .900 career percentage (second), 589 career assists (sixth), 278 career steals (15th) and 102 games played (tied for sixth).
Loyer went on to play at Michigan State and then Davidson.
See below for more recent record book entries for boys basketball.
Four Onaway standouts were added for single-season and/or career records. Jager Mix, who graduated in 2022, was added for 92 steals last season and 225 over his four-season career. Kevin Pearson, a 2021 grad, was added for 81 steals as a senior and 247 over his career. Joe Sigsby, a 2016 grad, was added for 127 steals, and Jadin Mix was added for 124 in 2021-22. Their totals rank ninth and tied for 10th, respectively, on that all-time list. Jager Mix also was added for 967 career rebounds, and Onaway as a team was added for tying the record for most points in a quarter with 49 during the first quarter of a win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Feb. 3, 2022. Jager Mix is playing at Alpena Community College, and Jadin Mix is a senior this school year.
Uchenna Amene was added for 11 steals in a March 7, 2022, game against West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy and for 97 steals total over 25 games. He was a sophomore at Southfield Christian that season and now is a senior at Detroit Catholic Central.
Owen Franklin graduated from Oscoda in 2021 as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and nearly 44 percent of those 1,477 points came on 3-pointers. Franklin made the state career 3-pointers list with 216 over four seasons. He’s playing baseball at Northwood.
Traverse City Christian sophomore Reece Broderick became one of the state’s most accomplished long-distance shooters in just his second year of high school this past winter, drilling 104 3-pointers – good for third-most for one season all-time – over 23 games. He connected on 42 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
A pair of Rudyard four-year varsity standouts entered the record book after their graduations in 2022. Tate Besteman made the career rebounds list with 762 over 89 games, and EJ Suggitt made the career 3-pointers list with 215 over the same 89 contests. Besteman played this past season for Mid Michigan College, and Suggitt is playing baseball at Spring Arbor.
Success from 3-point range played a significant role in Mesick finishing 21-1 in 2021-22, as the team made 195 of its 578 attempts – with game highs of 15 twice in wins over Baldwin and Pentwater.
Then-senior Tristan McFolley earned the first listing under single-game rebounds since 2013 with 30 in Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy’s game with Hope of Detroit Academy on Dec. 8, 2022.
Tawas found its groove from long range Jan. 10 against Oscoda, drilling 22 3-pointers in an 86-31 win. The total tied for fifth-most in one game.
Although Norway felt just short, 40-37, in its District loss to Crystal Falls Forest Park on March 8, Alex Ortman kept the Knights close scoring 20 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter to make the single-quarter scoring list. He’s now a senior.
Kobe Clark has listings in two MHSAA record books, with three for boys basketball joining those he earned for football during his Schoolcraft career. He was added in hoops for 531 career assists and 290 career steals over 94 games from 2016-17 through 2019-20, and also for 82 steals as a senior. Tyler DeGroote also was added to the record book, for scoring 20 points during the first quarter against Delton Kellogg during Schoolcraft’s Jan. 11, 2022, victory. Clark began at Saginaw Valley State for football and now plays basketball and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and DeGroote is continuing at Rockhurst (Mo.).
Past Detroit Cooley star Larry Fogle has added a seventh record book listing a half-century later. Fogle grabbed 33 rebounds on Jan. 18, 1972, during a win over Detroit Mackenzie. He went on to play at Louisiana and Canisius, and then briefly with the New York Knicks.
Trevon Gunter scored 42 points in Kalamazoo Central’s 84-56 win over Richland Gull Lake on Jan. 17, 2020, including 31 during the third quarter – second-most and just one shy of the record for points during one period. A senior that season, Gunter plays currently at Grand Valley State.
Mark Wittbrodt held the record for consecutive free throws at 70 until 2008, and that entry in the record book has been joined by several others from the Bay City Western star. He was added for his 192 3-pointers, 436 free throws, .842 free-throw percentage and 266 career steals over three seasons from 1991-93, as well as for six single-season accomplishments. He went on to play at Michigan Tech.
Ellsworth’s Jacob Jenuwine tied for 12th on the single-game 3-pointers list when he connected on 11 as part of scoring 39 points total in his team’s Feb. 14 win over Alanson. Jenuwine graduated this spring.
Bellevue senior Dawson Wing capped his three-season varsity career last winter with three entries in the record. He was added for 12 blocked shots in a 2021-22 game against Colon, 107 for the season last winter and 203 blocks over his career. Teammate Caleb Betz, a senior this fall, was added for 12 steals in a game against Athens.
Logan Mansfield capped his Morenci career in a big way last winter. The senior drilled 90 3-pointers over 24 games to earn his school’s first individual record book entry in boys hoops since the 1987-88 season, when John Craig had 132 blocked shots that would have been the second-most recorded at that time. They currently rank 13th.
New Haven earned a pair of record book entries during its March 10 win over Memphis. The Rockets bested their previous single-quarter school record with 41 points during the opening period, and they also made the statewide single-game 3-pointers list with 16.
Whitehall’s Camden Thompson, a junior this fall, earned his first record book entry last winter – and the first for his school in boys basketball. He grabbed 303 rebounds over 21 games.
Grand Rapids Wellspring Prep junior Zeekeal Jackson earned his school's first boys basketball record book entry this past season as well. He made the single-season steals list with 106, over 22 games, and just missed the single-game list with a high of 10.
Jonesville’s Brady Wright was among his team’s leading scorers during his three varsity seasons ending this past winter, but he also was a major contributor defensively. He made the records with a season-high 101 steals over 25 games as a senior, and made the career list with 232 steals over 61 games.
Sophomore Christopher McLavish Jr. made a memorable impact last season with a pair of record book entries. He made the single-quarter points list with 20 in a Feb. 21 game against Flint Powers Catholic, but even more memorable were his 97 3-pointers over 25 games for the season – tying him for 11th all-time on that list.
PHOTO Foster Loyer directs Clarkston's offense during its 2018 Class A Semifinal.