By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – The bright lights have worn off for Waterford Our Lady’s seniors.
Andrew Kline and brothers Clay and Devin Senerius brought the Lakers to the Class D Semifinals a year ago for the first time since 1993, and they just missed a football championship losing by seven points in the Division 8 Final this fall.
So when the score of Thursday’s first Class D Semifinal sat tied for the seventh time with 5:49 to play, the Our Lady seniors weren’t phased by the building Breslin Center pressure.
The Lakers closed on a 15-3 run to finally break away from Wyoming Tri-unity Christian and earn their first MHSAA championship game appearance with a 64-53 victory.
“Playing on the big stage, it’s not as hard as it used to be,” said Devin Senerius, who led four Our Lady players with 17 points. “At the beginning of last year, at the Semifinals we were all nervous. And then at the state finals (for football), we were a little nervous. Now we all just wanted to win instead of lose.”
They’ve got a chance to win one more time, and for the first time in program history on the final day of the season, when they face Powers North Central at 10 a.m. in Saturday’s Class D Final.
The Lakers (22-4) were ranked No. 3 at the end of the regular season, so this run was hardly a surprise. But they also lost the final two games before the District began, putting the senior leaders in a position to pull their team back on track.
Our Lady responded by winning four of seven tournament games by at least 10 points.
“First off, it’s their personality. They want to win, and that’s vital,” Our Lady coach Paul Robak said. “It doesn’t matter if it is basketball, football, whatever; they want to win. That’s the most important part of the culture, teaching that not only to others in their class but the younger classes.
“We took a step backward toward the end of the year, and we got a little sloppy. But to their credit, we went back to being more competitive on the practice floor. And it starts with these three guys.”
Still, the final score Thursday was not indicative of how close the game stayed until the final six minutes.
To that point, neither team built a lead of more than six points. From 2:25 to play in the second quarter until 1:17 remained, neither team got ahead by more than four. There were 14 lead changes, seven in the third quarter and five during the fourth.
There would be only one run – and it would belong to Our Lady.
Kline scored nine of his 15 points during the final go-ahead drive, while Tri-unity Christian made only 1 of 9 shots from the floor during the final six minutes.
“Coach told us it’s crunch time,” Kline said. “We’ve got to buckle down. We knew we were the better team.”
Freshman Noah Robak added 12 points and Clay Senerius had 11 for Our Lady. Devin had 12 rebounds and Clay added 10 and six assists as the Lakers outrebounded the Defenders 37-15.
Senior guard Collin Rosendall led Tri-unity (20-6) with 17 points and four steals, and senior forward Javi Cuevas had 12 points and four assists.
Although the Defenders made a decent 44 percent of its shots from the floor, they connected on only 7 of 27 tries from 3-point range – struggling at what’s usually a strength.
“All year long we’ve done a good job of maintaining the bleeding on the boards,” Tri-unity coach Mark Keeler said. “Tonight we didn’t do a good job of that. They have good shooters and I think they knocked down key shots at the right time.
"They stayed in their zone, and I was happy they stayed in their zone because our 3-point shooting is normally good. But it failed us at the end.”
The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.
PHOTOS: (Top) Our Lady’s Clay Senerius looks for an opening while Tri-unity’s Javi Cuevas defends. (Middle) The Defenders’ Collin Rosendall works to get past a Lakers player during the Class D Semifinal.
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)