By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Jason Whitens held two fingers up as he moved through his teammates to the handshake line after Saturday morning’s Class D Final.
The Jets are in the midst of one of the most impressive runs in Michigan high school basketball history. And they had just withstood one of their few tests of the 2015-16 season.
North Central won its 55th straight game Saturday morning, 59-48 over Waterford Our Lady to claim a second straight championship at the Breslin Center – but after breaking away when the Lakers trailed by four with only four minutes to play.
“They were playing harder than us, to be honest. We kinda got lazy, and they came out and wanted to hit us in the mouth,” North Central junior guard Jason Whitens said. “We took their shot, and we’ve taken shots all year. We just had to take it in and battle back. But they moved the ball real well, (Andrew) Kline’s a great player, and it’s just a great team over there.”
And a growing legendary one from the small village, with a school enrollment of 122, located west of Escanaba at the crossroads of U.S 2 and 41 on the southern end of the Upper Peninsula.
The Jets finished 28-0, which with last season's 27-0 record ties them for the most wins, 55, of any team over two seasons.
And not to move on too quickly from the repeat celebration – but there’s suddenly a lot more to look forward to next season as well.
North Central now stands tied with Saginaw Buena Vista’s 1992-94 teams for the fourth longest winning streak in MHSAA boys basketball history. The record is 65 straight set by Chassell’s teams from 1956-59.
Five programs have won three straight championships during the 90 years of the Class D Finals. And the Jets would seem to be favored to become the sixth with Whitens, starters Dawson Bilski and Bobby Kleiman and up to 12 players total expected to return.
But along the way, Our Lady (22-5) was one of the most formidable opponents North Central faced this season – and provided a genuine scare into the fourth quarter.
The Jets opened the second half on a 13-3 run to build an 18-point lead midway through the third quarter. But with seniors Andrew Kline and Devin Senerius mostly taking turns getting to the basket, Our Lady went on a 23-9 run to cut the deficit to 49-45 with 5:24 left.
“We knew they were going to have a lot of confidence coming into the game. They were blowing out everyone; they won by 40 in the semis,” Kline said. “Coach kept telling us they have all the pressure on them. No one was expecting us to come out and win the game. We knew if we just did our thing, played them tough, we had a chance. We had nothing to really be nervous about.”
“That’s the biggest run somebody’s gone on us in a while, so I was interested in seeing how our kids were going to handle it coming out for the fourth quarter,” North Central coach Adam Mercier said.
The Jets did so not relying on Whitens, their leading scorer at 22 points per game, but by spreading the offense. Six players scored down the stretch as North Central finished on a 10-3 run started on a basket by senior Morgan Cox and a 3-pointer by junior Marcus Krachinski.
“Morgan’s basket was huge. We got a steal in there, I think too. And we executed some plays – my kids were probably shocked. I don’t call many plays,” Mercier said. “Their mental focus was great to start that fourth quarter. They understood that this (Our Lady) team was a very good team. I know we were favorites and everything, but anytime you’ve got a state finalist in football, they’re going to be kids that don’t back down from anybody.”
Actually, both teams playing Saturday morning were football finalists – Our Lady was the Division 8 runner-up for 11-player with Clay and Devin Senerius playing starring roles, and North Central won the 8-player championship with Whitens finishing the fall with 45 touchdown passes without an interception.
And they matched athletes well. North Central shot better, and especially from long range making 9 of 18 3-point attempts. But Our Lady had more rebounds (35-27) and only 12 turnovers to the Jets’ eight.
“We knew coming into it that it wasn’t a team we were going to beat probably best of seven. But we thought that we could take advantage of some of their personality,” Our Lady coach Paul Robak said. “They’re a team that scores 80 points a game, and they want to win by 50. They don’t want to win by 10. And we thought we could use that against them possibly if we could get them to play a style that maybe they aren’t as comfortable with. … We did some of the things that I thought were going to be key.”
Kline led Our Lady with 22 points, four assists and three steals. Devin Senerius added 17 points and nine rebounds.
Whitens had 16 points and seven rebounds. Bilski added 15 points, three assists and four steals and senior Troy Ekberg had 11 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Our Lady ended up as one of three teams to come within 12 points of North Central this winter. The Jets had beaten teams by an average of 34 points entering Saturday, with only Class B Menominee and rival Crystal Falls Forest Park coming closer; Menominee fell by 12 and four, and Forest Park also lost by only four to go with defeats of 14 and 30.
“This year we had a couple blowouts, and they’re still fun,” Bilski said. “But being together having close games, it shows who we are and if we’ll fall apart or not. As you can see, we didn’t fall apart tonight.“
The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.
PHOTOS: (Top) Powers North Central players celebrate their second straight Class D championship. (Middle) The Jets’ Troy Ekberg works to stay in front of Our Lady’s Andrew Kline.
Foster Loyer’s four-season career at Clarkston from 2014-15 through 2017-18 certainly must be considered among the most accomplished in state history as he led the Wolves to back-to-back Class A championships in 2017 and 2018 and is listed in the record book 25 times.
Among Loyer’s most notable entries were 2,325 career points (12th most), 272 career 3-pointers (tied for ninth), records of 119 consecutive free throws and 634 career free throws, a .921 free-throw percentage as a junior (tied for fourth) and .900 career percentage (second), 589 career assists (sixth), 278 career steals (15th) and 102 games played (tied for sixth).
Loyer went on to play at Michigan State and then Davidson.
See below for more recent record book entries for boys basketball.
Four Onaway standouts were added for single-season and/or career records. Jager Mix, who graduated in 2022, was added for 92 steals last season and 225 over his four-season career. Kevin Pearson, a 2021 grad, was added for 81 steals as a senior and 247 over his career. Joe Sigsby, a 2016 grad, was added for 127 steals, and Jadin Mix was added for 124 in 2021-22. Their totals rank ninth and tied for 10th, respectively, on that all-time list. Jager Mix also was added for 967 career rebounds, and Onaway as a team was added for tying the record for most points in a quarter with 49 during the first quarter of a win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Feb. 3, 2022. Jager Mix is playing at Alpena Community College, and Jadin Mix is a senior this school year.
Uchenna Amene was added for 11 steals in a March 7, 2022, game against West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy and for 97 steals total over 25 games. He was a sophomore at Southfield Christian that season and now is a senior at Detroit Catholic Central.
Owen Franklin graduated from Oscoda in 2021 as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and nearly 44 percent of those 1,477 points came on 3-pointers. Franklin made the state career 3-pointers list with 216 over four seasons. He’s playing baseball at Northwood.
Traverse City Christian sophomore Reece Broderick became one of the state’s most accomplished long-distance shooters in just his second year of high school this past winter, drilling 104 3-pointers – good for third-most for one season all-time – over 23 games. He connected on 42 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
A pair of Rudyard four-year varsity standouts entered the record book after their graduations in 2022. Tate Besteman made the career rebounds list with 762 over 89 games, and EJ Suggitt made the career 3-pointers list with 215 over the same 89 contests. Besteman played this past season for Mid Michigan College, and Suggitt is playing baseball at Spring Arbor.
Success from 3-point range played a significant role in Mesick finishing 21-1 in 2021-22, as the team made 195 of its 578 attempts – with game highs of 15 twice in wins over Baldwin and Pentwater.
Then-senior Tristan McFolley earned the first listing under single-game rebounds since 2013 with 30 in Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy’s game with Hope of Detroit Academy on Dec. 8, 2022.
Tawas found its groove from long range Jan. 10 against Oscoda, drilling 22 3-pointers in an 86-31 win. The total tied for fifth-most in one game.
Although Norway felt just short, 40-37, in its District loss to Crystal Falls Forest Park on March 8, Alex Ortman kept the Knights close scoring 20 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter to make the single-quarter scoring list. He’s now a senior.
Kobe Clark has listings in two MHSAA record books, with three for boys basketball joining those he earned for football during his Schoolcraft career. He was added in hoops for 531 career assists and 290 career steals over 94 games from 2016-17 through 2019-20, and also for 82 steals as a senior. Tyler DeGroote also was added to the record book, for scoring 20 points during the first quarter against Delton Kellogg during Schoolcraft’s Jan. 11, 2022, victory. Clark began at Saginaw Valley State for football and now plays basketball and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and DeGroote is continuing at Rockhurst (Mo.).
Past Detroit Cooley star Larry Fogle has added a seventh record book listing a half-century later. Fogle grabbed 33 rebounds on Jan. 18, 1972, during a win over Detroit Mackenzie. He went on to play at Louisiana and Canisius, and then briefly with the New York Knicks.
Trevon Gunter scored 42 points in Kalamazoo Central’s 84-56 win over Richland Gull Lake on Jan. 17, 2020, including 31 during the third quarter – second-most and just one shy of the record for points during one period. A senior that season, Gunter plays currently at Grand Valley State.
Mark Wittbrodt held the record for consecutive free throws at 70 until 2008, and that entry in the record book has been joined by several others from the Bay City Western star. He was added for his 192 3-pointers, 436 free throws, .842 free-throw percentage and 266 career steals over three seasons from 1991-93, as well as for six single-season accomplishments. He went on to play at Michigan Tech.
Ellsworth’s Jacob Jenuwine tied for 12th on the single-game 3-pointers list when he connected on 11 as part of scoring 39 points total in his team’s Feb. 14 win over Alanson. Jenuwine graduated this spring.
Bellevue senior Dawson Wing capped his three-season varsity career last winter with three entries in the record. He was added for 12 blocked shots in a 2021-22 game against Colon, 107 for the season last winter and 203 blocks over his career. Teammate Caleb Betz, a senior this fall, was added for 12 steals in a game against Athens.
Logan Mansfield capped his Morenci career in a big way last winter. The senior drilled 90 3-pointers over 24 games to earn his school’s first individual record book entry in boys hoops since the 1987-88 season, when John Craig had 132 blocked shots that would have been the second-most recorded at that time. They currently rank 13th.
New Haven earned a pair of record book entries during its March 10 win over Memphis. The Rockets bested their previous single-quarter school record with 41 points during the opening period, and they also made the statewide single-game 3-pointers list with 16.
Whitehall’s Camden Thompson, a junior this fall, earned his first record book entry last winter – and the first for his school in boys basketball. He grabbed 303 rebounds over 21 games.
Grand Rapids Wellspring Prep junior Zeekeal Jackson earned his school's first boys basketball record book entry this past season as well. He made the single-season steals list with 106, over 22 games, and just missed the single-game list with a high of 10.
Jonesville’s Brady Wright was among his team’s leading scorers during his three varsity seasons ending this past winter, but he also was a major contributor defensively. He made the records with a season-high 101 steals over 25 games as a senior, and made the career list with 232 steals over 61 games.
Sophomore Christopher McLavish Jr. made a memorable impact last season with a pair of record book entries. He made the single-quarter points list with 20 in a Feb. 21 game against Flint Powers Catholic, but even more memorable were his 97 3-pointers over 25 games for the season – tying him for 11th all-time on that list.
PHOTO Foster Loyer directs Clarkston's offense during its 2018 Class A Semifinal.