New Haven Locks Down, Lifts Class B Trophy

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 25, 2017

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.”

Click for the full box score.

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.

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)