River Rouge Takes Title Dream Into Final

March 15, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – At River Rouge, 14 MHSAA championship banners tell of one of the most storied programs in Michigan high school boys basketball history.

They don’t hang banners there for making the Semifinals or finishing runner-up.

That’s been on the minds of Panthers players all season after falling in the Semifinals the last two – and it was on their minds again as Friday’s Division 2 Semifinal against unbeaten Harper Woods Chandler Park went into overtime.

River Rouge saw a lead as large as 10 fade away during regulation, and then barely earned overtime on a last-second 3-pointer. But on the 20th anniversary of their last championship, the Panthers will get the opportunity to play for possibly the next after hanging on for a 72-66 victory at the Breslin Center.

“We need to win. I need to do whatever it takes to win the state championship. That’s what was going through my mind the whole time,” said River Rouge sophomore Legend Geeter of the game’s final stretch.

“I’ve been (to Breslin) once and lost in the Semifinals, and it was not a great feeling. In my mind, in order for this program to keep being great, we’ve got to win another state championship and put another banner up.”

River Rouge (23-2) will take on Hudsonville Unity Christian in Saturday’s 6:45 p.m. Final, in a rematch of the 1963 Class B championship game won by the Panthers 59-49.

Coach LaMonta Stone, who led the 1999 team, returned in November after two seasons away for his third tenure running the program and immediately told his players this season would be “state championship or bust” – but also that his expectation was that they would win title 15.

River Rouge has the most championships in the MHSAA’s 94-year history, but none during the 2000s, and the Panthers couldn’t bear the thought of another opportunity slipping away.

The double-digit lead – 33-23 just less than a minute into the second half – did slip away gradually over the third and fourth quarters. Senior Josh Diggs gave Chandler Park a 58-56 lead with a 3-pointer with 49 seconds to go in regulation, and two free throws by senior Andre Bradford pushed the advantage to three with 13 seconds left. But senior Nigel Colvin saved River Rouge’s championship hopes, taking a pass down the baseline on the ensuing possession, moving two steps to his right and draining a 3-pointer with three seconds left on the clock.

“Nigel when I came into this team was just a spot-up shooter,” Stone said. “But he’s the hardest-working kid on the team. Every day before practice, after practice, he’s working on his 1-2 dribble pull-up. He doesn’t want to be known as just a 3-point shooter.

“So when I saw that shot, and he had to get it off, I’m just thinking back to when he’s in the gym after practice, before practice, working on those type of shots where he has to take one or two dribbles and shoot the ball. Two or three months (ago), he couldn’t have made that play – because he was just a spot-up shooter.”

Colvin hit another 3-pointer to open the overtime scoring, and Chandler Park senior forward Tyland Tate answered to tie things back up. But a Geeter basket with 1:50 to play gave the Panthers the lead back for good, as they finished on a 7-3 run.

The loss was the first and only this season for Chandler Park (21-1), which won its first Regional title last week on the way to this first trip to the Semifinals.

“You saw the support we had. A lot of people came out,” Chandler Park coach James Scott said. “Small charter school, on the end of the east side, Harper Woods area. So I thought it was big to show that we have talent, we’ve got some players and it’s a program on the rise. From making this type of run, every year, moving forward.”  

Bradford had 14 points and three steals, and senior guard Derrick Bryant Jr. had team highs of 15 points and six assists for Chandler Park.

Colvin finished with 20 points to lead River Rouge, making 8-of-10 shots from the floor including 4-of-6 from 3-point range. Geeter added 17 points and six rebounds and senior Donavan Freeman scored 12. Senior Bralin Toney had seven assists.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) River Rouge players embrace senior Nigel Colvin after his game-tying 3-pointer during the final seconds of regulation Friday. (Middle) Donavan Freeman (1) gets a shot up just out of the reach of Chandler Park’s Tyland Tate.

For Their Teams, For Each Other, St. Mary Seniors Team Up 2 More Times

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

March 17, 2023

Shawn Bramer and Dylan Barnowski, as middle schoolers, attended the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals every year.

Northern Lower PeninsulaLast year, they nearly played in the Division 3 title game – falling in a Semifinal but almost making a dream come true for the then-juniors and their Lake Leelanau St. Mary coach, Matt Barnowski, also Dylan’s father.

That dream began for some when the boys were coached by Matt as third graders, and they made serious strides last season. Before last winter, the last time the Eagles had won a Regional championship was 1950 – and no St. Mary boys basketball team had reached the Semifinals. Bramer and Dylan Barnowski – along with current seniors Jack Glynn, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar – had high hopes of making more history this winter.

The dream ended Wednesday night with a Regional Final loss to Frankfort, which St. Mary had defeated 54-41 during the regular season. This time, the Eagles were faced with a large number of K-12 students succumbing to illness – with all five of its starters at least somewhat sick – as nearly a third of the school’s tiny enrollment was out of school the day after the loss to the Panthers.

But you won’t hear any of the players or coaches making excuses. They give all the credit to Frankfort, and they’re ready to move on. And many in the LSM family know reaching the Regional Finals this season and Breslin Center in 2022 had absolutely no probability had Bramer and Barnowski not made an iron-clad agreement last summer. 

Eagles coach Matt Barnowski coaches up his team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick.The two friends vowed to help each other despite their personal, opposing challenges.

Barnowski and Bramer, through LSM’s cooperative agreement with Suttons Bay, went 3-for-3 playing in 8-Player Division 1 Football Finals during their first three years of high school. But through last summer Barnowski, who quarterbacked the Norseman, had no interest in football.  

Bramer, meanwhile, had been nursing a quad tendon injury since his sophomore football season and battling two bad knees but was thinking he could suffer though football and sit out the basketball season to recover. The all-state running back experienced training difficulties and even had his strength training severely hampered.

Football was king for Bramer, and he also loved basketball too. Basketball is number one to Barnowski. The longtime friends decided cut a deal to help each other — and their teammates — out.

“I was kind of on the edge,” said Bramer, who plays with braces on both knees. “After talking to each other, we both ended up just playing. 

“I really shouldn’t be playing sports, but I couldn’t miss out playing with my friends,” he continued. “We just figured it was our last season so we might as well just do it.”

Dylan Barnowski and Brammer also teamed up during successful football careers. Barnowski had been considering ending his football days immediately after the Norse fell short in their third-straight trip to the Finals, at Superior Dome in Marquette in Fall 2021. That loss was at the hands of Adrian Lenawee Christian 31-20.

The Norseman graduated most of their offensive and defense lines last spring and expected to be small in numbers. Until this fall, they had lost only one regular-season game on their way to three straight title game appearances. This year they finished 3-5.

The big linemen losses — Barnowski’s protection — was forcing him to weigh his injury risk against having a senior basketball season.

“We did it for each other,” Barnowski said. “I talked with Shawn, and we knew we had a big community behind us and it would be hard for them if we just quit. 

“I knew we weren’t going to have the same powerhouse team we had,” he continued. “We weren’t very good this year, but we still had a blast.”

This week’s loss put an end to the possible Breslin championship finish, but it left the friends happy with the decision to play both sports. The Eagles finished 20-4.

Barnowski led St. Mary in scoring. He averaged better than 20 points a game with more than seven rebounds and five assists. Bramer averaged just under 15 points per game, and almost 10 rebounds.

The two big men each scored 11 in the season-ending loss. Thompson scored 14. This year’s senior-dominated team likely will be remembered for its basketball success for some time. Barnowski, Bramer and Glynn experienced only one loss in District play over their four seasons.

“It’s a really special groups of kids,” Coach Barnowski said. “These kids kind of transformed St. Mary’s basketball.  

St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Brammer, Jack Gwynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. “They’ve really built the program,” he continued. “It’s been a roller coaster ride.”

Bramer and Dylan Barnowski also played baseball in the past for the Eagles, but that likely won’t happen this spring. Barnowski plans to golf, and Bramer expects to sit the spring season out and heal.

“We’ll never forget these last four years of varsity we played,” Barnowski said. “I‘ve decided to go a more relaxing route, and I’m going for some golf.”

With their Breslin dream over, the friends are ready to enjoy the St. Mary’s community support and move on. They’re bummed so many were sick in the end but won’t use it as an excuse.

“Hats off to Frankfort,” Barnowski said. “They did an incredible job of shutting us down.”

Bramer agreed.

“They just played their game better than we did,” he said. “They took the lead at the end of the third quarter, and it was a battle from there.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at tomspencer@chartermi.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) St. Mary’s seniors Dylan Barnowski, left, and Shawn Bramer hold up the team’s District championship trophy last week. (2) Eagles coach Matt Barnowski, center, and assistant Sander Scott coach up their team during last week’s Regional Semifinal win over Mesick. (3) Dylan Barnowski and Bramer also teamed up during successful football careers. (4) St. Mary’s seniors, from left: Shawn Bramer, Jack Glynn, Dylan Barnowski, Drew Thompson and Nick Linguar. (Sideline photo by Tom Spencer; player photos by Emmerson Lamb Photography.)