By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Seth Polfus might still be giggling and shaking his head. He couldn’t believe it either.
Southfield Christian was going to be the greatest threat so far to Powers North Central’s nation-leading 81-game winning streak. Anyone closely following the Jets’ record-setting run knew it.
But no one would’ve guessed Polfus – a 5-foot-9 senior guard, the team’s fifth-leading scorer, coming off three missed jumpers – would be the one to finish victory 82.
With four seconds to play in Thursday’s first Class D Semifinal, the team’s Mr. Basketball finalist double covered, and history seemingly hanging in the Breslin Center air, North Central’s Dawson Bilski sent a halfcourt pass deep to Polfus, who bobbled the ball at the baseline. Recovering, he somehow got up a shot around outstretched arms with one tenth of a second on the clock – and it dropped to give the Jets an 84-83 double overtime victory that could well be remembered as the game of this Finals weekend, even though no title was awarded for winning it.
Regardless, it surely will be remembered as the defining game of North Central’s winning streak, however long it lasts. Southfield Christian won three straight Class D titles from 2012-14, and then played in Class C the last two seasons while the Jets built their legacy. After last season’s Finals, this school year’s classifications were released showing the Eagles headed back to Class D.
“We knew if we made it to this point, they’d be there,” said Jets senior Jason Whitens, that Mr. Basketball finalist. “So everything from that point was getting better each day, preparing for that but not overlooking any opponent because you never know when something’s going to slip up, and teams are after you. We’ve got a big target on our back, and we got the job done.”
North Central (27-0) will next face Buckley in Saturday’s 10 a.m. Class D Final.
Polfus will have a busy weekend. A 4.0 student, he’ll later that afternoon accept one of 32 MHSAA/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete Awards for his achievements as an all-around athlete and student.
But he wrote his legend with that most improbable shot, the basket of a lifetime for a player who tore a knee ligament two seasons ago and spent last year’s Breslin run mostly holding down the bench.
“I didn’t know how much time was on the clock. I didn’t even know I shot it,” Polfus said. “We set up that play and Dawson was going to be coming down the court, and I knew I was going to be in that position because they were going to go double (Whitens down the sideline), and the ball was coming and I was ‘Oh man, it’s actually coming at me right now.’ And then I lost (the ball) … and I didn’t really know where I was. And then I saw the 6-4 kid coming at me, pump-faked him like I always do when I’m really scared. And then just launched it, and I saw it hit off the rim, thought it was an air ball, and then I just didn’t know what happened.”
“I saw him go wide open,” Bilski added, “and I have enough trust in Seth – I grew up with him – I knew he was going to get the job done.”
Needless to say, none of what happened past halfcourt was coach Adam Mercier’s plan.
“I think one thing that summarizes these guys, and they’ve always been this way, is that they’re good at adapting,” Mercier said. “You run sets and plays, and sometimes you get in the way coaching. (But) sometimes you let kids make mistakes, and you let kids make plays.”
The Jets had to make a few. Southfield Christian led by 10 with two minutes to go in the third quarter, only to see the Jets tie it back up with a 14-4 run to end the period.
The two teams went back and fourth during the fourth, with the Eagles pushing the game to overtime on sophomore Harlond Beverly’s free throw with six seconds to go in regulation.
“We had a couple chances, they had a couple chances to put it away,” Southfield Christian coach Josh Baker said. “That’s kinda what we’re used to with these guys and the work ethic they put in.”
Southfield Christian got up by three at the end of the first overtime, but Whitens drained a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to push the game to a second extra period. As that one wound down, the Jets led 82-80 with 20 seconds to go after a Bilski blocked shot and free throw.
But Eagles senior Brock Washington fearlessly drilled a 3-pointer with 10 seconds to play, pushing his team ahead by one and setting up Polfus’ dramatic moment.
“That’s what you want in the playoffs, what you want in the final four – a great game, a great matchup,” Washington said. “We’ll all look back one day and we’ll all be proud of what we did, but we all wanted to get that win.
“Everybody was prepared. Everybody was ready for the challenge. We’ve just gotta make the extra play.”
All five starters scored in double figures for the Eagles (21-6). Junior Bryce Washington had 23 points and Beverly had 22, seven assists and six steals, while Brock Washington added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Senior forward Trenton Temple had 10 points and 10 rebounds, and sophomore guard Caleb Hunter had 11 points and also seven assists.
Four other Jets average at least 10 points a game, and Polfus finished fifth in the points column again with seven (just above his 5.5 ppg average). Whitens had 31 points and 10 rebounds, Bilski added 23 points and 12 boards, and senior Bobby Kleiman had 14 points and eight rebounds. Polfus was the only starter who didn’t play the full 40 minutes, sitting for a mere three.
“I think win or lose tonight, they guys have already built their legacy. They didn’t need to win this game to prove anything,” Mercier said. “I’m just so happy for our guys to overcome. I know a lot of people have doubts about us, and deservedly so. We’re a small Class D school with 115 kids, so a lot of people discredit our 81-game winning streak up to this point, because who have you beat?
“That was a question mark coming in. So these kids played the underdog role. At the same time, we’re the two-time defending state champs, we’ve won that many games in a row and we deserve to be here as well. I was just so elated at pushback by our kids tonight … just that pushback, because how many games did we have single digits (during this streak)? So how are our kids going to respond? Those were the questions coming in. And these kids answered them tonight.”
PHOTOS: (Top) North Central teammates carry Seth Polfus down the court after his game-winning shot Thursday. (Middle) The Jets’ Jason Whitens works for an opening while the Eagles’ Brock Washington (left) and Harlond Beverly defend.
We are down to the final four weeks of this MHSAA boys basketball season – and while the entertaining part is detailed below in our regular Monday report, there’s some major data crunching underway behind the scenes as well.
Seeding the top two teams in every District requires thousands of data points – and a season-long process of collecting them all. More than 720 varsity teams are playing this winter, and we’re in the midst of a process of checking their schedules one by one – about a 24-hour task by itself to make sure all scheduled games are showing, league standings are set up correctly, etc.
Additionally, daily we’re sorting through disputed scores, changes to schedules because of weather or teams that have discontinued their seasons, and other adjustments. But we’re always striving for perfection – and when Districts are drawn and those top teams seeded Feb. 26, we hope to have every schedule up to date and every score filled in.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. North Farmington 68, Muskegon 55 These two have lived at or near the top of Division 1 MPR all season, making this win by the Raiders (12-1) at the 2K23 Showcase at Aquinas College arguably their best, especially considering it also was the first loss for the Big Reds (13-1).
2. Saline 57, Ann Arbor Huron 47 The Hornets (11-4) saw an eight-game winning streak end three days later, but in this one handed Huron (13-1) its lone defeat of the season.
3. Ann Arbor Huron 67, Benton Harbor 55 The River Rats, meanwhile, rebounded immediately with a 13-point win over Dexter and then a 67-55 victory over Benton Harbor (13-3) at Aquinas.
4. Warren Lincoln 52, Grand Rapids Northview 37 The Abes (12-3) just keep impressing, this time with a big win over a Northview team matching their 12-3 record, also during the 2K23 Showcase.
5. Iron Mountain 64, Powers North Central 58 This matched arguably the best in the Upper Peninsula in Divisions 3 and 4, respectively, with the Mountaineers moving to 13-1 and the Jets to 11-2.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Detroit U-D Jesuit (14-2) The Cubs have won outright or shared the last two Detroit Catholic League Central championships, and they’re hoping to run that streak to three by winning Friday’s rematch with first-place Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (14-1). A 68-53 defeat to the Warriors on Jan. 24 and a 67-64 loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s on Jan. 6 have left Jesuit a game back, but the Cubs do have a sweep of reigning Division 1 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate plus early impressive nonleague wins over Clarkston and Ferndale.
Kalamazoo Central (13-2) After just missing the Division 1 Semifinals a year ago – losing to Northview by two in a Quarterfinal – the Maroon Giants are ahead of their 16-win pace from that finish with their only losses to Brother Rice and Battle Creek Lakeview (11-3), the latter by a point. They also defeated Lakeview in the teams’ first meeting, handed Mattawan its only loss and most recently defeated Detroit Renaissance at the 2K23 event.
Ferndale (7-6) Few if any have played a tougher schedule, especially considering Ferndale is Division 2 playing most of the Division 1 powers. The Eagles are No. 5 in Division 2 MPR despite a 1-5 start including losses to Brother Rice, Jesuit, St. Mary’s and Muskegon, and then a two-point loss to North Farmington last week. Meanwhile, Ferndale has defeated Grosse Pointe South (13-3), Flint Beecher (12-3), Clarkston (11-5) and River Rouge (10-5). The North Farmington rematch is Feb. 24, and a Feb. 11 matchup with Port Huron Northern should also boost MPR.
Grand Rapids Christian (10-4) The Eagles may be in fourth in the Ottawa-Kent Conference White, but they are No. 6 in Division 2 MPR. Three of the four losses were to league opponents, but Christian is coming off a 55-53 double-overtime win over Warren Michigan Collegiate (13-2) on Saturday at Aquinas. An early win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central and a Jan. 21 victory over De La Salle also stand out.
Flint Beecher (12-3) The Bucs are off to another big start after last season’s finish at the Division 3 Semifinals, losing only to Detroit Cass Tech (17-0), Benton Harbor and Ferndale as Beecher also has loaded up its nonleague schedule. Beecher also has four wins over teams with double-digit victories, with an 80-71 defeat of Flint Hamady (14-2) on Jan. 10 putting the Bucs in first in the Genesee Area Conference Red. The Hamady rematch is Feb. 18, before a major regular-season finish against Goodrich (13-1) and Grand Blanc (14-2).
Napoleon (14-0) The Pirates aren’t sneaking up on anyone after going 19-3 last season, but they are dominating nonetheless. All but one win have been by eight points or more, and Napoleon leads the Cascades Conference after finishing second last year with a pair of losses to Vandercook Lake. The Pirates not only defeated Vandercook in their first meeting, by 40, but next defeated Michigan Center by 17 after the Cardinals ended their season last winter. Napoleon also has a 63-45 win over Big 8 Conference co-leader Concord.
Baldwin (13-1) The Panthers are coming off an 18-5 finish and second place in the West Michigan D League, and they lead it this time by two games and with a win over Mesick after losing both meetings to the eventual league champ a year ago. Baldwin also has avenged a 2021-22 loss to Mason County Eastern and could avenge another hosting Traverse City Christian on Tuesday. The Panthers also have given Marion (11-4) half its losses.
Powers North Central (11-2) As noted above, the Jets are at least among the handful of elite small-school Upper Peninsula teams, No. 4 in statewide Division 4 MPR although second in D4 in the U.P. with Painesdale Jeffers in the top spot. Those two wouldn’t see each other until a Regional Final, where North Central’s 19-5 run ended last season. The Jets only defeats this time are to Division 2 Kingsford and Division 3 Iron Mountain, which stand a combined 25-3.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Goodrich (13-1) at Corunna (12-2) – They’re tied atop the Flint Metro League Stars with Goodrich winning the first meeting 69-54 on Jan. 10.
Friday – Detroit U-D Jesuit (14-2) at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (14-1) – As noted above, the Detroit Catholic League Central title will be on the line, as Jesuit can force a shared championship.
Saturday – Hamtramck (10-5) vs. Kalamazoo Central (13-2) at Benton Harbor – The Cosmos have faced their share of statewide elite as well, and will be seeking what would be one of their most notable wins in this Wilson Chandler Shootout matchup.
Saturday – Flint Hamady (14-2) at Davison (10-5) – Old rivals meet again as Davison is coached by longtime Beecher leader Mike Williams.
Saturday – Saginaw Arthur Hill (7-9) at Saginaw (14-4) – They’ll still have 2023-24 left before one the best rivalries in state history ends with a school merger, but this year’s rematch comes after Saginaw won 57-55 on Jan. 14.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Saginaw player gets to the rim during Friday's 59-54 loss to Mount Pleasant. (Middle) A Montabella player goes to the basket during his team's 43-28 win last week over Carson City-Crystal.(Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)