By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Romulus made three trips to the MHSAA Semifinals from 2008-12, and missed out on three championship game berths by a combined five points.
How focused are the Eagles on finishing the job this time around? Consider how they started and finished Thursday’s 76-67 Semifinal victory over Grand Rapids Christian.
Romulus jumped out to a 10-0 lead over the first two minutes from which Christian never recovered. And after the final buzzer, it was impossible to tell which team had just earned a chance to play for the Class A championship.
“We all know what it feels like (from) when we lost to Rockford (last season). We know we should’ve won,” Romulus senior E.C. Matthews said. “We’re all playing with a chip on our shoulders. Everybody came in with a mentality to win.”
Romulus (26-1) will face either reigning champion Saginaw or Detroit Southeastern in Saturday’s noon Final. It will be the first championship game for Romulus since falling by three to Holt in 2005.
Romulus reached the Semifinals in 2008, 2009 and 2012, losing by two in overtime and then by one in each of the next two games, respectively. Romulus also made the Quarterfinals in 2011. It does own one championship, from 1986.
“It feels good to finally get back to the championship. … These guys have kinda made that their goal,” said Romulus coach Nate Oats, who has led the program to all but its first trip to the Finals. “They’ve worked extremely hard to put themselves in the spot they’ve put themselves in.
"We’re a lot more focused. We’ve got pretty mature kids who come in with a business-like mindset.”
And that effort this time was led by Matthews, who has signed with Rhode Island. Oats said he’ll play point guard at the college level, but Romulus has a college-caliber point guard too in Missouri recruit Wesley Clark. So Oats moved Matthews to wing this season, and he more than doubled his team-leading scoring average (16.2) on Thursday, finishing with 37 points on 17 of 26 shooting from the floor. As a team, Romulus made 48 percent of its shots and scored 20 points on the fastbreak.
Clark had seven points but eight rebounds and nine assists, and 6-foot-8 Louisiana Tech signee Leonardo Edwards had 12 points and nine rebounds manning the post.
But similarly clutch was senior guard Lowell Wade, who was responsible much of the game for covering Grand Rapids Christian junior Drake Harris.
The hero of the Division 4 Football Final in November, Harris has seemingly upped his already-substantial game to go along with Christian’s recovery from a 2-4 start and run to East Lansing. He had 25 points in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal win over Muskegon and scored 25 more in the Semifinal – which he said was his final high school basketball game as he plans to enroll early at whichever college he chooses to continue his football career.
Two of Harris’ points pulled Grand Rapids Christian within six of the lead with 5:29 to play. But that was the closest he and his Eagles got during the game’s final 12 minutes.
“Drake’s been a go-to guy, a tough matchup. They forced us into some tough shots, but it was one of those nights,” Grand Rapids Christian coach Steve Majerle said. “If we did it all over again, we’d probably do the same thing, just do it better. They did better what they do than we did what we do.”
Junior Dwayne Barfield added 12 points, seven rebounds and seven steals for Christian, and junior DaRohn Scott had 11 points and seven rebounds.
Grand Rapids Christian finished 20-7 and won 10 straight before Thursday. “If you’d seen where we started and where we ended, it was like night and day,” Majerle said. “If you saw our first game, we’re not the same team.”
Romulus, which entered the tournament ranked No. 2, was able to avoid a letdown after beating No. 1 Detroit Pershing in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal. Now back in a Final, the Eagles will be sure to remain even keeled in preparation for hoisting a championship trophy.
“We’re not that high. We were here last year, so we know what it feels like,” Matthews said. “We’re listening to Oats. He’s leading us. He’s telling us all the right things.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Romulus' Wesley Clark (right) tries to get up a shot around Grand Rapids Christian's Davaris Collier (3). (Middle) Romulus' E.C. Matthews (right) prepares to drive against Christian's Joel Zwiers (34). (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)