Pirates sail into first Final since 1993

March 20, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Nick Spitzley, no doubt like the other eight seniors on Pewamo-Westphalia’s basketball team, dreamed growing up of playing for an MHSAA championship.

He needed to use his imagination, since the first and only time the Pirates did play for a Class C title was in 1993, a few years before he was born.

“Obviously we always came out on top,” Spitzley recalled. “Making a lot of shots, and I was always getting pumped up with my team.

“Since I was little, it’s always been a dream, and it’s come true. We’ve been playing together since fifth grade, maybe before that.”

P-W’s seniors are halfway through the final weekend of their high school careers and more than halfway to making that dream come true.

The No. 10-ranked Pirates advanced to Saturday’s Class C final by defeating No. 9 Muskegon Heights 54-44 in the first Semifinal on Thursday at the Breslin Center. P-W’s nine seniors will get to play in the final game of the season for the first time in school history, at 4:30 p.m. against No. 2 Detroit Consortium.

Pewamo-Westphalia will become the second straight team from the Central Michigan Athletic Conference to play for the Class C title, and third in eight seasons. Laingsburg fell in last year’s Final by a point, 40-39, to Flint Beecher. Bath won the Class C title in 2007.

Also from the CMAC, Fulton was Class D runner-up in 2011 and Fowler finished the same in 2002.

The Pirates had to come back over the final minute to beat Beecher in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal, and made it two-for-two against some of the state’s most storied programs by then eliminating Heights, which played in its 22nd Semifinal and fourth over the last five seasons.

P-W has won 81 percent of its games under coach Luke Pohl during two tenures over a combined 17 seasons. But the Pirates haven't had the chance to add the championship game chapter to their story in more than two decades.

“Knowing we had to beat a team like Flint Beecher and Muskegon Heights, with the history behind those schools, in unbelievable,” Pohl said. “If you follow our league, you’ve seen how many times the league has been here the last 10 years. It’s rock ‘em, sock ‘em basketball in the wintertime, and we’ve got great coaches there – those kind of guys sharpen my skills as a coach. But you’ve gotta have players to win, and we’ve got really good players.”

Spitzley is a four-year starter, one of the top scorers in school history, and did his part Thursday with 22 points and eight rebounds.

But the Semifinal win was truly a full senior effort, as all six players who saw time were 12th graders and a pair added big plays to Spitzley’s game-high scoring surge.

The first came 1 minute, 14 seconds into the second half with the Pirates trailing by a point. Guard Evan Fedewa scored and was fouled on his way to the hoop, and hit the ensuing free throw to give the Pirates a 29-27 lead. They would never trail again.

But Muskegon Heights came close to taking back the lead. The Tigers (20-4) pulled within four with 4:20 to play when P-W center Lane Simon was fouled on a score and also made the following free throw to push the lead back to 46-39 and seemingly drain the last bit of momentum from Heights’ comeback run.

Simon added 17 points, 10 rebounds, and both Fedewa and Kyle Nurenberg grabbed nine rebounds for the Pirates.

Junior Antonio Jones led Muskegon Heights with 16 pints, and senior Eddrick Tornes added 12. Jones made what could be one of the shots of the tournament, a spinning pull-up jumper thrown up without a look at the basket. But overall, his team shot just 24 percent from the floor including 14 percent as P-W pulled away during the second half.

Still, the return run was an accomplishment coach Dalrecus Stewart made sure to note. The Tigers have been here plenty of times, but this one was a little different – the school closed after spring 2012 and re-opened that fall as a public school academy.

“I know (my players) are feeling hurt, but this was a little bit more than a basketball game for us with all of the things that have gone on in our city as well as our school district the last few years,” Stewart said. “The championship they won today was about bringing hope to despair. They are a shining bright spot and what they’ve done is beyond measure. They’re my champions.”

Click for a full box score and video from the press conference

PHOTOS: (Top) P-W’s Lane Simon (1) goes to the rim during Thursday’s Semifinal win over Muskegon Heights. (Middle) P-W's Nick Spitzley works to get past Muskegon Height's Eddrick Tornes.

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Muskegon Heights’ Aaron Sydnor (3) wins the tip-up battle to score late in the first half against Pewamo-Westphalia. (2) Pewamo-Westphalia opened the second half with a 17-3 run. Lane Simon drives for two during that spurt.

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

November 28, 2023

HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.

Southwest CorridorIt reads "In Jesus' name we play."

Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to  God.

"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.

Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.

The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.

Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.

With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.

"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."

Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.

The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.

"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.

Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.

"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."

Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.

"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.

Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.

"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."

In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.

"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.

The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.

"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”

Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.

"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.

"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”

"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."

Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.

The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.

Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.

"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."

Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.

"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."


The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.

Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.

"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."

Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.

Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)