By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Some may consider it ironic that Detroit Community will play for the Class B championship Saturday despite nine losses this season.
But the Hurricanes are the first to explain those losses are why they’ll play in their first MHSAA Final.
Community advanced to the final game for the first time with a 58-37 win over Wyoming Godwin Heights in a Semifinal on Friday at the Breslin Center.
And now senior Byron Zeigler and his teammates will face No. 1 Detroit Country Day – although they won’t be intimidated after facing and falling to the likes of Romulus, Detroit Pershing, Cass Tech, Southeastern and others during the regular season.
“We’ve played all the top teams in the state, so there’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” Zeigler said. “Any situation we came to, we knew we had to stick together, play hard, and we knew we’d have a good outcome.”
Saturday’s Final tips off at 6:30 p.m. Community (18-9) entered the tournament unranked – but given this outcome, likely wouldn’t have scheduled any other way.
The Hurricanes found themselves at 6-5 just after the midpoint of the season. In three of their defeats – to Pershing, Southeastern and reigning Class D champion Southfield Christian – they led going into the final minutes.
During this run they’ve won three games by six or fewer points.
“I think that helped us out going down the stretch. We’re closing those games out now,” Community coach Venias Jordan, Jr., said. “Playing in every holiday tournament and not closing those games out, I guess we can’t help but get better.”
Closing out wasn’t a worry Friday. The Hurricanes took a 10-point advantage three minutes into the second quarter and led by double digits the rest of the way.
Zeigler, a 6-foot-6 forward headed to South Florida after graduation, said he wanted to be aggressive early and remind his teammates they’d reached the big stage. He scored 10 of his 17 points in the first quarter, and also finished the game with 12 rebounds. Godwin Heights coach Chad Conklin said Zeigler was the best his team had faced this season.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes worked to keep Godwin Heights’ standout guards out of the lane. Plugging the middle worked – the Wolverines’ point total was their lowest this season by 10. Three Godwin Heights guards entered the week averaging more than 10 points per game, but none scored more than four Friday.
“It’s a double-edged sword. If you’re not making your shots on the perimeter, and then go inside and your shots are blocked … to score 37 points like this is disappointing,” Conklin said. “I thought we got some decent shots outside, but they didn’t go in. We tried to attack the glass, but they did a good job of blocking (us).”
Community junior Jason Buyck grabbed 10 rebounds in just 11 minutes as his team outrebounded Godwin Heights 46-37.
Junior center Markese Mayfield led the Wolverines with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Conklin explained to his players after that they’d put Godwin Heights hoops on the statewide map. His teams were a combined 66-8 over the last three seasons including 23-3 this winter.
Jordan no doubt can say the same to his Community players, regardless of what happens Saturday.
“Over the last three years, we’ve been through a lot, faced a lot of obstacles,” Community senior Ramell Robinson said. “This last year, we have to take it all the way. Our first practice goal was March 23, and not to just get to the championship (game), but to win the championship.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Community's Byron Zeigler (35) tries to drive past Wyoming Godwin Heights' Markese Mayfield during Friday's Class B Semifinal. (Middle) Godwin Heights' Jamal Bland pushes the ball upcourt against a Community defender. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)