North Central Repeats Perfect Run in D

March 26, 2016

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.

Their reaction to winning a second straight MHSAA championship was of course filled with celebration – but also respect. 

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.“

Click for the full box score.

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.

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.