P-W Earns Chance at 1st Championship

March 14, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Pewamo-Westphalia always seems to be in the mix. The Pirates haven’t had a losing record since 1998-99, the last season before coach Luke Pohl returned to the program after two years away and led 19 straight winners.

Maybe last year’s seniors, coming off an 18-6 finish, wanted to provide their replacements with a little bit of additional motivation.

“Our seniors last year, pretty much all of our starters, were saying we’re not going to be good this year,” P-W senior Andre Smith said. “That we were actually going to be worse. That motivated us to all put in work over the offseason and get better.

“We were putting in a lot of work. But (to get) this far? I didn’t really think that much. But we’re here and we put in that much work, and it’s paid off.”

For the third time in its history, P-W has earned an opportunity to play for its first championship. The Pirates advanced to Saturday with a 60-45 Division 3 Semifinal win over Erie-Mason on Thursday at the Breslin Center.

P-W (27-0) will meet also-unbeaten Iron Mountain in the 4:30 p.m. championship game. It will be the program’s third appearance in the Final – the Pirates finished Class C runners-up in 1993 and 2014.

After another long football season – P-W finished 11-1 and made the Division 7 Regional Finals – a mostly new crew of basketball contributors worked to get up to speed before an opening night that also was a week earlier than usual this season.

To be honest, P-W may not have been even the favorite in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference – which produced three District champions this winter. But the Pirates downed favorite Dansville by 18 in their second game of the season, and Smith and his teammates knew then they might be on to something special – even if Pohl as well didn’t really expect to still be playing on the season’s last day.

“You just don’t know. You only have two starters back, but we’ve just jelled,” Pohl said. “We’ve done a lot of things well defensively, made it hard for offensive teams. We have great length, and a lot of guys have put in extra time. Andre took a huge jump, every guy took a huge jump. (So) I never dreamed that.”

It’s also likely no one expected the Pirates to jump out to a 15-0 start Thursday. But that wasn’t enough to count out Erie-Mason and particularly junior guard Joe Liedel.

The Eagles pulled all the way back to within a point at 23-22 with 2:20 to go in the first half as Liedel – who averaged 28.6 points per game this season – scored 14 of his game-high 31 during the comeback.

Another Liedel basket with 1:27 to play in the third quarter kept Erie-Mason only three points behind.  But Smith pushed the margin back to nine with the first basket of the fourth, and the Eagles made only 3-of-16 shots from the floor over the final period as P-W pulled away.

“A lot of times, those (big early leads) come back to bite you,” Pohl said. “I’ve seen it happen too many times; a team lets up little bit, starts to feel the pressure as the other team is coming back. … The guys persevered. They battled through this all year long, and I couldn’t be more proud of the way we ended up finishing.”

Junior forward Aaron Bearss finished with a team-high 16 points, nine rebounds and four blocks for P-W, and Smith had 14 points and nine rebounds. Senior forward Nathan Wirth grabbed nine rebounds as well as the Pirates won the boards 46-32.

Liedel had six rebounds and three assists to go with his 31 points, and senior center John Sweeney grabbed eight rebounds for Erie-Mason.

“My biggest thing is to keep getting better this offseason. I just want to keep taking everything we’ve done this year and be back here next year and be even better,” Liedel said.

Erie-Mason (23-3) made it to this final week by winning its first Regional title since 1973, one of many achievements as eighth-year coach Kevin Skaggs has built the program.

Two of his first three teams finished with sub-.500 records, but his last five all have been winners, with this one also earning the first league title of his tenure.

P-W was model of consistency that Skaggs, who came from the college ranks, used as something of a “benchmark” for the Erie-Mason program.

“When we got to Mason eight years ago, they had had only eight or nine winning seasons in 50 years of basketball,” Skaggs said. “I think this has been a continuous building project to get to this stage. It was not unexpected to get here. But what you can’t reproduce is the experiences that Pewamo has enjoyed. Those kids have watched the guys, when they were in elementary school, perform on this stage or at least get to the Regional Finals.

“Our guys are still in the process of they’ve created history. … They are creating the same things that the early teams that Luke coached during the late 90s and early 2000s (created).”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Pewamo-Westphalia’s Hunter Hengesbach (10) sets up the offense as Erie-Mason’s Joe Liedel defends. (Middle) Liedel gets a shot up over the Pirates’ Collin Trierweiler.

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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.