By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half
EAST LANSING — Even on an MHSAA championship basketball team, there’s not always peace and harmony within the ranks.
There are still internal fires to be put out by coaches, whose job descriptions don’t call for pleasing everyone all of the time.
When Jalen Pettes was disappointed with limited playing time early last season, Flint Beecher coach Mike Williams had to talk the then-junior into sticking with the program.
“He had a tough time,” Williams said. “The first seven, eight games, he didn’t play much. He was ready to quit. I had a meeting with he and his mom. I told him, ‘Jalen, if you give me everything I want in practice, I guarantee you that by next year, I’m not going to be able to take you out of the game — period. But you’ve got to bring it.’”
Pettes played sparingly the rest of the season during Beecher’s championship run, but his work ethic in practice forced Williams to keep his promise this season.
Overshadowed by the exploits of Mr. Basketball Monte Morris, Pettes’ tenacious defense is one of the key reasons Beecher is celebrating back-to-back MHSAA Finals championships in boys basketball for the first time.
Pettes’ fifth steal of the game with 2.4 seconds remaining thwarted Laingsburg’s final attempt at springing an upset, as Beecher held on for a 40-39 victory on Saturday at the Breslin Center.
It’s the fifth MHSAA Finals title for the program, which would’ve won three Class B championships in a row from 1985-87 if not for Chris Coles’ miraculous half-court buzzer-beater for Saginaw Buena Vista in
the 1986 Final.
“I love winning it this way,” Williams said. “It’s just that much more gratifying to know that we earned it.”
Beecher’s success through the years has been predicated upon a stifling defense. Pettes acknowledges that he isn’t going to light up score sheets like Morris, but he became a key contributor to this year’s championship by completely buying in to the Buccaneers’ defensive philosophy.
“I really don’t score a lot,” Pettes said. “I just like to play defense and get stops and let my team do the rest. Defense just comes easy to me. I just like playing defense.”
Once he committed to stick with the team last season, he honed those defensive skills against two of the best guards in the state.
“Jalen had to guard Monte Morris and Antuan Burks all last year in practice,” Williams said. “In order for him to get on the floor last year, he had to play defense in practice. So now you take a year later, he’s four or five inches taller and stronger, and he doesn’t fear anybody, because he’s been guarding Mr. Basketball his whole life.”
Laingsburg (24-3), which received only honorable mention in the final Associated Press rankings, almost sprung a huge upset on the top-ranked Buccaneers (27-1).
The Wolfpack, which led 18-12 in the second quarter, took a 35-34 lead with 5:02 remaining on a free throw by Ryan Wade. Back-to-back scores\ near the basket by Markell Lucas and a driving layup by Morris gave Beecher a 40-35 lead with 2:25 to go.
Shaun McKinney cut the lead to one by hitting two free throws with 2:04 left and a basket with 1:05 remaining.
On Beecher’s next possession, Morris drove to the basket, only to have his shot rejected by Sam Edwards. Laingsburg got the ball, pushed it up the floor and called timeout with 17.5 seconds on the clock.
What followed was a helter-skelter possession which ended when Pettes came up with a loose ball and was fouled with 2.4 seconds left. Pettes sat on the floor clapping his hands, then pumped his fist as he got up.
“When I got that steal, I knew we won the game,” he said.
Pettes missed the front end of a one-and-one, McKinney grabbed the rebound for Laingsburg, but time expired as he heaved a long pass down the floor toward Jake Zielinski.
“My heart goes out to our guys,” Laingsburg coach Greg Mitchell said. “I’m so thankful for their effort. I thought we played really, really good team basketball today. A bounce or two here or there and we’re feeling a little bit better than we are right now.
“This was a team that was not expected to win our league, not expected to win our district, not expected to win our regional, certainly not expected to get here. But we’re a couple points shy of being the state champs. That’s going to be a tough one.”
Beecher won, despite flu-like symptoms that hit Morris and fellow starter Emmanuel Phifier the morning of the game. Morris wasn’t in the game early in the third quarter when Laingsburg turned a 24-19 deficit into a 26-24 lead. He finished with 16 points and two assists, his lowest totals in six career MHSAA tournament games at the Breslin Center. Phifier had only four points.
“You could see that Monte was sick,” Williams said. “He could barely finish the game. But he pulled it out. Without him, we’re not sitting on this podium (as Class C champion) right now. He’s actually too sick to even walk out of the bathroom right now.”
Morris played in the 109th and final game of his Beecher career, breaking the MHSAA record of 108 games played by Flint Powers Catholic’s Patrick Lucas-Perry from 2007-08 to 2010-11. Beecher had a 98-11 record during Morris’ four years, including 55-1 during the last two.
McKinney scored 15 points and Zielinski 14 for Laingsburg.
“Finishing is what we want,” Zielinski said. “We were a couple plays short. We just have to live with the results.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Beecher's Monte Morris (11) dunks during Saturday's Class C Final win over Laingsburg. (Middle) Laingsburg's Zach Walker (12) looks to pass to teammate Jake Zielinski (4) while Morris and others defend. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.
MHSAA.com's weekly “Breslin Bound” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
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.)