North Central Powers to D Title Game

March 26, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Powers North Central can play too fast. That’s what happened the last time the Jets came to Breslin Center, at the end of 2012-13. 

But few teams have been able to slow them down when their clicking like they did during Thursday’s final Class D Semifinal.

North Central’s high-octane offense burned from the start en route to earning the team’s first MHSAA championship game berth since 1984 with a 71-46 win over Fulton. 

The top-ranked Jets, averaging nearly 72 points per game entering the weekend, nearly hit that mark after opening on a 29-4 run that stretched more than two minutes into the second quarter. They scored only 36 points total in their last trip to Breslin, a Semifinal loss to Wyoming Tri-unity Christian two seasons ago.

“Me personally, I just learned last time we played here that we played too fast, and we were kinda nervous,” said senior Rob Granquist, also a starter as a sophomore and the team’s leading scorer in that loss. “We didn’t get our shots we wanted. But tonight we just played our game that we’ve played all year, and it worked out great for us.” 

North Central (26-0) will take on Morenci in the 10 a.m. Class D Final on Saturday, seeking the second MHSAA title in program history.

Coach Adam Mercier listed off Thursday a handful of lessons he learned during that 2013 trip downstate. He wanted to get more players on the floor this time – and 11 saw minutes. And he wanted his team to come out aggressively – and they fired 17 shots in the first quarter, making nine. 

“Two years ago we came down here and we were a little awestruck, and we played pretty tentatively,” Mercier said. “What we talked about Thursday is being the aggressor, not coming out soft. We wanted to take some shots and see what happens.

“We felt whoever could throw the first punch early would have a slight advantage. … We were able to get that first punch, and it was a big punch.” 

Shooting has been the strength of a Fulton team with more than 200 3-pointers this winter. But North Central – with three starters 6-foot-4 or taller – had a few inches on most of Fulton’s top players and pushed the Pirates to take some deeper shots than they likely wanted.

Fulton (21-5) made only 29 percent of their shots from the floor and just five of 24 tries from 3-point range. North Central’s size also played to a 45-35 rebounding advantage and a 40-18 edge in points scored in the paint. 

“We started settling for shots early, and it just kinda snowballed as they hit some shots. And then it felt like we had to hit some 3s,” Fulton coach Todd Walden said. “That’s tough against a team that’s that good when they’re going to get a good look every possession, and when they happen to miss they’re going to battle on the boards.”

Junior guard Colton Antes was a bright spot for Fultonfrom the perimeter, making 5 of 11 shots and three 3-pointers for 15 points. 

Granquist had 14 points and seven rebounds and junior center Morgan Cox came off the bench for 12 and six, respectively, for the Jets. But the most impressive performance of the day’s four Semifinals arguably came from sophomore guard Jason Whitens, who had 16 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in only 23 minutes.

Mercier mentioned how Whitens' dad is a fan of Magic Johnson, and how the 6-4 forward has patterned his game on a player he’s seen only on replay. Jason Whitens averaged 16.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game entering this week. 

“That’s what we expect out of him. It’s hard to say as a sophomore. (But) more importantly, that’s what he expects out of himself,” Mercier said. “He’s a very confident player, but at the same time he’s very humble. He could put up 20 shots a game and I’m sure score mid-20s if he wanted to, but he’s the type of player that makes other players around him better by his ability to pass it, defend and rebound. 

“We expect the same thing out of him Saturday. No pressure.”

Click for the full box score and video from the postgame press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Powers North Central’s Rob Granquist breaks past a defender during Thursday’s Class D Semifinal. (Middle) Fulton’s Kaleb Brunner (33) works to drive past North Central’s Marcus Krachinski.

Ferndale Caps Winter Season with 1st Boys Hoops Title Since 1966

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 25, 2023

EAST LANSING – One team was going to end a long championship drought in Saturday’s boys basketball Division 2 Final.

Ferndale’s was especially lengthy, and spanned more than five decades.

And now it is no longer.

The Eagles won their first Finals championship in 57 years with a 44-38 victory over Grand Rapids South Christian at Breslin Center.

Ferndale had last won a state title in 1966.

“The drought is over,” Eagles coach Juan Rickman said. “That’s big time, and the biggest part about making it down here was seeing how charged up the community was and the school was so charged up. It’s the greatest feeling to see how vested our community was in our success.”

Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim.Ferndale senior Christopher Williams led the way with 16 points and four rebounds.

“It feels great,” Williams said. “Especially since the past four years we’ve been to the same place and lost twice in a row to the same team, and now it feels like weight is lifted off my shoulders.

“We started off the season 1-5, and going till now we knew if we stayed together through adversity then we could do it. And it made it more impactful that it was our coach’s first state title, and that’s what we wanted to do.”

Added senior point guard Cameron Reed, who had a game-high seven assists: “It’s incredibly special. I wasn't born back then, my teammates weren’t born and my coaches weren’t born. It definitely rejuvenated the whole city and community.”

Ferndale led 8-4 at the end of the first quarter, and both teams shot poorly in the first half. The Eagles connected on a paltry 24 percent from the field, and South Christian on 35 percent of its attempts. Nate Brinks drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Sailors a 16-14 halftime lead. 

Junior guard Jake Vermaas opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to make it 19-14, but Ferndale made a charge.

The Eagles sliced the deficit to one (25-24) on a 3-pointer by Trenton Ruth, and Cameron Reed tied it at 28-28 with an acrobatic layup.

“Our team was mentally strong, and I’m so proud of them for their accomplishment,” Rickman said. “Just so committed to the process and just being resilient.”

Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.An 8-2 spurt by Ferndale over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter made it 36-30.

“That was extremely important, and we always want to win the first four minutes,” Rickman said. “And we tried to open up the fourth quarter with what we call a kill; we want to get five straight stops and score on two or three of those possessions so we can build a lead. We did that fairly well against a good team.”

South Christian was attempting to win football and basketball Finals championships during the same school year, and was looking for its first basketball title since 2005.

“It was a really hard-fought game and I thought we played at our speed, but it got away from us a little bit,” first-year Sailors coach Taylor Johnson said.

“But it doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year. We’ve been through it all, including three season-ending injuries, and to still make it to the state finals is an incredible feat.”

Senior Jacob DeHaan and Vermaas led the Sailors with 14 points apiece, while senior Sam Medendorp added seven points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Ferndale raises the Division 2 championship trophy Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim. (Below) Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.