Southfield Christian Claims 3-Peat in D

March 22, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – First one and then a second starter fouled out of Saturday’s Class D Final as Southfield Christian tried to catch Adrian Lenawee Christian with only a few minutes remaining.

Fortunately for the Eagles, they had a few more players left with experience finishing a championship run. 

Southfield Christian had never during the last three seasons played from situation it faced early Saturday afternoon. But a number of its players had helped win one or both of two straight MHSAA championships – and that no doubt assisted those left on the floor as they claimed a third.

Junior guard Bakari Evelyn scored five of his game-high 28 points after teammates Lindsay Hunter IV and Damarco White fouled out in the fourth quarter, and 2013 championship game standout Marlo Brown also scored during the same stretch as Southfield Christian claimed its third straight MHSAA title with a 63-61 nail-biter over Adrian Lenawee Christian. 

“It was tough once I saw we were losing Lin and Damarco for a few quarters. My whole objective was to keep the game as close as possible,” Evelyn said. “I thought we were going to come out with the win, through the whole game and everything. It was good to finally be right.”

Evelyn, who started last season’s Class D Final and came off the bench in 2012 as a freshman, also had seven rebounds, four assists and four steals and handled the ball almost exclusively after Hunter fouled out with 16 points, 3:47 left to play and the Eagles trailing 54-51. 

The 6-foot-6 White fouled out just more than a minute later with only two points, but five rebounds and five blocked shots after spending most of his morning defending Lenawee Christian’s trio of 6-7 post players. 

But Evelyn had plenty of help down the stretch. Sophomore guard Jalen Bouldes played only 38 seconds during the closing minutes, but scored, was fouled and made the ensuing free throw to give Southfield Christian a 56-55 lead with 3:09 to play. Brown scored a minute later to push the lead to three. Evelyn then made five of six free-throw attempts over the final 1:13 to keep Lenawee Christian just a few points short. 

“We’ve never had this where all of our main guys were in foul trouble. Other guys like Harding (Fears) and Benny (Cookinham) had to step up,” Eagles coach Clennie Brundidge said. "I’d put (Hunter and White) back in here and they’d get another foul. I told them that at the end, our depth was going to win this.”

Fears grabbed eight rebounds in 12 minutes and junior guard Kameron Garner – a starter last season who this winter came off the bench – had five points and five rebounds despite taking a hard fall during the first half. Brown had only four points, but both baskets put Southfield Christian up at points in the game.

Lenawee Christian (21-5), an honorable mention in the Class D poll heading into the postseason, came back from an early nine-point deficit to make it back-and-forth over the final three quarters. 

Senior center Kingsley had 22 points on 7 of 11 shooting from the floor and with sophomore forward Maxwell (11 points) allowed the Cougars to slow the game’s tempo and keep Southfield Christian’s usually active fastbreak to only 11 points.

“We wanted them to come beat us at our game, and I think for the most part we were able to control tempo,” Lenawee Christian coach Scott McKelvey said. “Our free-throw shooting hurt us (19 of 31), but we got opportunities and we couldn’t ask for anything more than that. It’s a team that probably no one in the state thought we could beat.” 

“If we could’ve had two more minutes,” Kingsley added, "I’m pretty confident we could’ve changed something.”

Senior forward Grant Hohlbein, also set to accept an MHSAA Scholar-Athlete Award later Saturday, added 15 points for Lenawee Christian. The Cougars’ Semifinal on Thursday was its first since 2001, and the championship game berth was their first ever. 

Brundidge said that after seeing Lenawee Christian in a summer game, he knew that was the team his Eagles would face if they returned for a third straight Final. Southfield Christian’s only loss this season was to Class A No. 5 Saginaw Arthur Hill, and it finished 26-1 and 74-5 over the last three seasons – good to tie for eighth-most wins over a three-season span.

“I’m in awe,” Hunter said. “My freshman year we lost in the first round of Districts to (Bloomfield Hills) Roeper, went 2-19. I never thought we’d be sitting here in this position with three state championships.” 

Click for the full box score and video from the press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Southfield Christian’s Bakari Evelyn (22) works to get to the rim around Adrian Lenawee Christian’s Maxwell and Grant Hohlbein. (Middle) Lenawee Christian’s Nick Mewborn dribbles upcourt with Southfield Christian’s Kameron Garner defending. 

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Southfield Christian uses a block to start a fast break, resulting in a basket – and one – for Jalen Bouldes. The free throw gave the Eagles the lead to stay in the Class D finale. (2) With 12 seconds to go, Grant Hohlbein of Lenawee Christian scores on an inbounds pass and draws a Southfield Christian foul. Hohlbein completed the three-point play to pull his team within a point at 62-61.

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)