Senior Bucs Lead 3rd Straight Title Run

March 25, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – The generations of Flint Beecher basketball rolled over again Saturday at the Breslin Center.

From the stands, stars of recent championships Monte Morris and Aquavius Burks cheered on the current Bucs, whose seniors were finishing the most impressive run in the program’s storied history – and preparing the next group to continue the tradition for years to come.

Four senior starters – Malik Ellison, Jordan Roland, Levane Blake and Edrice Hardnett – helped Beecher put the finishing touch on its third straight Class C championship and fifth in six seasons with a 73-58 win over Grand Rapids Covenant Christian.

Ellison, Roland and Blake all were four-year varsity players for the Bucs, joining the team after Morris led Beecher to the 2012 and 2013 Class C titles. Hardnett saw the floor briefly in the 2015 Final and joined the starting lineup this winter. Filling out Saturday’s first five was freshman guard Jalen Terry, the presumed next star in a growing list.

“When I was in the eighth grade, Monte took me under his wing, and he was showing me all the rights and wrongs to get to the championship,” Ellison said. “Basically, that’s what I was trying to do with Little E (Earnest Sanders) and Little Jalen. So when the new set of guys come in, they can sprinkle a little joy and education to them.

“Basically, it’s just a slippery slope. Just tell somebody else, and everybody else is going to adapt to it.”

Beecher finished this season 23-5, and coach Mike Williams said he believes Roland, Blake and Ellison finished with 109 varsity games, which would tie at least Powers North Central’s Jason Whitens, and possibly Morris for the most in MHSAA history.

Morris, who just finished a fantastic career at Iowa State, had FaceTimed Ellison earlier Saturday, nothing new in a relationship that has continued since the mentor left for the next level.

Ellison talked after the win about comparing his life to a book, and his “big brother” Morris certainly played a big part in writing this chapter. Ellison finished it by scoring 32 points as the Bucs held off a spirited push by Covenant Christian, which was playing in its first MHSAA championship game since 1994.

Unranked entering the postseason – while Beecher was tied for the No. 4 slot – the Chargers (21-6) played the Bucs to a tie in the first quarter and trailed by only three points heading into the fourth.

“I’m really proud of our guys. We had to believe to start the game we could win it, and I thought they showed that,” Covenant Christian coach Tyler Schimmel said. “I thought we got over the biggest challenge right as we left the hotel, and stepped off the bus. We knew a lot of people (in the media) and the arena didn’t think we had a chance, but we knew we did.”

Beecher’s seniors stepped in once more to close the door. After Terry opened the quarter with the Bucs’ first three points, the seniors scored the next 18 as their team pulled away.

Covenant Christian, meanwhile, made only 4 of 13 shots during the fourth quarter and tallied 10 of their 19 turnovers over those final eight minutes. Blake had nine points, but also 12 rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots while providing the most sizable obstacle to the Chargers’ comeback attempt.

“We talked about in the huddle, we have eight minutes left in your playing life, and what are you going to do about it?” Williams said. “And the whole thing is our identity is our defense. When the kids sit down, start applying the pressure, I think it really got to them.

“(Blake’s) been doing that for us for four years. He anchors our defense. He talks to everybody, and he’s one of the best defenders in the state. We wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in, winning our third state title, without this kid anchoring the defense, cleaning the glass. A lot of things that he does do not show up on the stat sheet.”

Roland added 15 points in his final game, and Terry had nine and six rebounds.

Junior forward Carson Meulenberg led Covenant Christian with 20 points and eight rebounds, while junior guard Tyler Cammenga had 13 points and junior forward Trenton Koole added 11 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

They’ll lead a lineup that should challenge again next season and won’t surprise anyone – including Beecher, if their paths should cross.

“There were a couple of times this season where probably people wrote us off, … but these guys have a ton of fight,” Schimmel said. “I think our fans and community have a lot to be proud of.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Beecher’s Levane Blake (22) dunks during Saturday’s Class C Final as Carson Meulenberg tries to obstruct his path. (Middle) The Bucs’ Malik Ellison goes hard to the basket, but Covenant Christian’s Trenton Koole (20) gets in the way.

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

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.