EAST LANSING – The New Haven boys basketball team has made a habit of lighting up scoreboards with explosive offensive performances.
But in their biggest game of the season, when pulled into a slowed-down game by Ludington, the Rockets dug deep and won with defense.
They held Ludington scoreless for the first 6½ minutes of the fourth quarter Saturday on the way to a 45-36 win to claim the Class B title at the Breslin Center. It was the first MHSAA Finals title for the Rockets, who were also making their first appearance in a boys basketball championship game.
“It was a great game, they’re a great team – they took away things that we do and played a great zone,” New Haven coach Tedaro France II said. “We kept our composure. It wasn’t a game that if you told me, we would come here and win this way. We scored the lowest point total we scored the whole year, and we found a way to win.”
The Rockets held Ludington to 11 of 49 (22.4 percent) shooting from the field, and while they were credited with just four blocks – all by sophomore Romeo Weems – the presence of shot blockers clearly caused problems for the Orioles, especially in the fourth quarter, when they shot 2 of 15 (13.3 percent) from the floor.
“You have to give a lot of credit to New Haven for that,” Ludington coach Thad Shank said. “They’re long and athletic and make it hard to finish. I thought we got a lot of great looks tonight, but that’s the game of basketball; sometimes they don’t always go in.”
Weems, who is already fielding Division I college offers, led all scorers with 19 points. He added 10 rebounds and three steals as well. Senior Eric Williams, Jr., had 14 points and seven rebounds for the Rockets (27-1), and Ashton Sherrell grabbed 11 rebounds.
Ludington was led by Calvin Hackert, who had 16 points. Sam LaDuke scored 10, and Noah Laman pulled down 10 rebounds for the Orioles. Six of Hackert’s points came in the final 1:30 on a pair of 3-pointers. Those were the only points the Orioles scored in the final quarter.
“We went with our man-to-man press trapping (in the fourth quarter), and they called a timeout because I don’t think they knew what to do,” Weems said. “I started giving everything I had left, getting scrappy, started rebounding more and got more aggressive.”
The game was played at a pace Ludington dictated, as the Orioles killed clock with long possessions and limited second-chance opportunities for the Rockets despite a massive size disadvantage. Ludington actually grabbed more offensive rebounds than the Rockets (14-10), and matched the Rockets in second-chance points (11).
Thanks to that, New Haven’s lead was just one heading into the fourth quarter.
“It was absolutely the way we wanted it to be,” Shank said. “We were hoping we would have the ability to control this game with our offense a little bit coming in. Be aggressive but patient, and really force them to guard a lot of things, and keep them from getting out in transition, and we did a pretty good job of that.”
Ludington (25-3) led by as many as eight, taking a 15-7 lead in the second quarter. But a Weems 3 sparked a 16-4 New Haven run to end the first half, giving the Rockets a 23-19 lead heading into the break. The game remained tight from there until the Rockets were able to break it open in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter.
“We started off and nobody was hitting shots,” Weems said. “I just looked at (Williams) and was like, ‘He’s not in it yet,’ so I hit the shot and was like, ‘I have to hit this and let him know I have his back.’
“We started hitting shots and started going on runs, then they started going on runs. In the second half, we just took off, started playing hard, started pressuring them and got them out of their comfort zone.”
For France, a New Haven graduate, bringing home a Class B title was extra special.
“It just means a lot – you could see all the fans here – it just means so much to our school, to our town, the Village of New Haven,” France said. “This sport here is what a lot of people live through. I had a family that’s been coming to the games the last two years – they were sick, the wife is dying. He said they come to watch these kids play, and when they come they don’t feel pain, they don’t feel stress. For that hour and a half, they’re just there to watch these kids play, and it brings so much pride to them.
“Like I tell (the players), you’re not just playing for yourselves, you’re playing for more than just you, and these kids get that.”
Ludington’s season ended with its first trip to an MHSAA championship game since 1953, and one night after a buzzer-beating overtime win against River Rouge.
“It’s pretty cool to know that we made history and this team will probably never be forgotten,” Hackert said. “It’s a huge accomplishment. It’s just awesome, and we’ll never forget it.”
PHOTOS: (Top) New Haven’s Romeo Weems (23) and Ashton Sherrell (3) help surround a Ludington ballhandler during Saturday’s Class B Final. (Middle) Ludington’s Joshua Laman looks for an open teammate while being doubled by Rockets defenders.
Walter “Stretch” Hansen and Harold Tate were good friends and high school basketball and baseball teammates at Hart High School, graduating in 1943.
No one could have guessed that less than two months after graduation (on July 2, 1943), the two friends would head to Fort Custer in Battle Creek, the first stop on their way overseas to fight for their country in World War II.
No one could have imagined how many twists and turns their lives would take over the next 80 years – from the battlefields in the South Pacific, then back to West Michigan where they both were married with children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and now Harold even has a great-great-grandchild.
And, certainly, no one would have believed that the two young boys from Hart – who forged a friendship through high school sports long before the days of computers, microwave ovens and cell phones – would still be alive at the age of 98 for an emotional reunion last month, on May 22, seeing each other for the first time in 80 years and, to cap it off, the reunion took place in their hometown of Hart.
“It was such a great day,” Hansen said about the meeting, which was set up by Muskegon-area World War II historian Richard Mullally.
“We picked right up, talking about sports and the service and everything else.”
The conversation came easy for the two old friends, who played for Hart during a “golden era” at the school – particularly in basketball, as the Pirates won 11 West Michigan Conference basketball titles between 1940 and 1954.
Perhaps the best team during that time period was Hansen and Tate’s as seniors in 1943. That team lost only once, to rival Scottville (31-25), but more than made up for it with an 80-10 trouncing of the Spartans in the final regular-season game.
Hart then crushed Scottville and Newaygo to win the District championship, only to have Michigan’s prep basketball season stopped abruptly at that point because of World War II.
That 1943 team featured four starters over 6-0, led by the duo of Hansen and Stan Kapulak (both 6-6), Joe Mack (6-2), Lyle Burmeister (6-1) and Stanley Riley (the lone starter under 6-foot at 5-11).
“The newspapers called us ‘The Hart Skyscrapers,’” said Hansen, who will be 99 on Nov. 6. “We were taller than most college teams at that time.”
Hansen and Tate’s friendship continued to blossom on the baseball field, only to have their lives turned upside down shortly after graduation 80 years ago, when all Hart senior boys who had been drafted headed to Battle Creek as a brief staging area on their way to the battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific.
Hansen served in the Army Specialized Training Program and was part of the 52nd Signal Battalion and the 4025th Signal Battalion in the Pacific Theater.
“I had an all-expense paid tour of the South Pacific,” Hansen said with a chuckle. “The Philippines, New Guinea, Okinawa, Hawaii, all over the place.”
Tate did his service in the 24th Infantry Division and the 19th Infantry Regiment, and was stationed in Japan.
During their visit last month, Harold showed off the Japanese Samurai sword and Arisaka rifle which he had sent back from Japan to Hart. The week after their visit, both took part in Memorial Day parades – Hansen in the Lakeside parade in Muskegon and Tate in his 77th Memorial Day service in Hart.
Hansen, who still has a home on a small lake in Holton and lives at a senior care facility in Muskegon, played many years of semi-pro basketball and did some coaching. He worked at GTE and has five children and 10 grandchildren.
“I have been so blessed,” Hansen said, sorting through one of his many scrapbooks. “All five of my kids are great and I have grandkids that are just amazing, everything they are doing. I don’t even know all of their names, but it’s sure been fun watching them.”
Tate returned to Hart after his military service and has been there ever since, at first working as a carpenter with his father and then becoming a rural mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, retiring 26 years ago at the age of 72. He has lived in the same home for 75 years and has three children, six grandchildren, seven great-grandkids and now one great-great-grandchild.
Tate laments the demise of his beloved American Legion post in Hart, a town with just over 2,000 residents, as the number of members has steadily declined.
One topic that brings a smile to both of their faces is the recent resurgence of the Hart High School athletic program, which drew media attention not too many years ago for all the wrong reasons – notably a football program which went 24 years without a winning record.
That string was snapped with a 6-3 mark and the school’s first earned playoff appearance last fall.
But that was just the start.
This winter, Hart’s boys basketball team finished the regular season 22-0, the girls basketball team made it to the Division 3 Semifinals at the Breslin Center, wrestling qualified for the Team Finals for the fourth-straight year and competitive cheer placed fourth in Division 4. This spring, the Hart girls track & field team won its second-straight Division 3 Finals team title, and the boys placed fourth.
“It’s a great place to call home, a great place to live, always has been,” said Hansen of his hometown, which got its name from its central position in the “heart” of Oceana County.
And who would have imagined that these two high school teammates could still come home again for a reunion at the age of 98?
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Members of the 1943 Hart High School varsity baseball team gather together, preparing for a team photo. Among those are Harold Gayle Tate (far left) and Walter "Stretch" Hansen, at 6-6 the tallest player in the back row. (Middle) Hansen, left, and Tate reunite for the first time in 80 years on Monday, May 22, 2023, in their hometown of Hart. (Below) Hansen served from 1943 to 1946 as a Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Tate served from 1945 to 1946 as a Platoon Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. (Top photo courtesy of Stretch Hansen. Middle and below photos courtesy of Richard Mullally.)