By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Damarco White was not part of Southfield Christian’s run to the Class D championship last season. But he got an earful from teammates Bakari Evelyn and Lindsey Hunter IV about what to expect Thursday at the Breslin Center.
Not that he didn't believe them. But it didn’t take long for the 6-foot-7 junior to truly understand what they meant.
The Eagles' physical and fast-paced Class D Semifinal against Lansing Christian featured 123 shots and 67 free-throw attempts, 15 tie scores and 17 lead changes. But over the final 2:15, Southfield Christian simply outlasted the Pilgrims in pulling away for a 75-68 win and another title game berth.
“They told me it wasn’t easy, and they were right,” White said. “I just tried to play my best. I try not to let my team lose every game I go out there.
“We’ve won 19 straight. We’re trying to make it 20.”
Southfield Christian (22-4), No. 3 at the end of the regular season, will face top-ranked Wyoming Tri-unity Christian at 10 a.m. Saturday to decide the title.
The Eagles no doubt will spend some of Friday resting up.
Only over the final two minutes – and after three Lansing Christian players fouled out – was Southfield Christian able to secure Thursday’s win. And those final two minutes followed six during which either the Pilgrims led or the score was tied.
“That’s what these guys have done all year. In tough games, tough situations, they hang in,” Eagles coach Josh Baker said.
“Our guys definitely picked up the intensity, picked up the ball pressure, sped up the pace. Part of it was (Lansing Chrstian) got into foul trouble and lost some guys. But I think we’re a little deeper. Hopefully we wore them down.”
Southfield Christian also took advantage of its ability to make free throws, connecting on 35 of 44 after entering the game on a streak of 23 straight makes. Sophomore guard Bakari Evelyn made 13 of 15 on the way to a team-high 22 points, and Hunter hit 8 of 9 in scoring 21 points total. White made 7 of 8 and finished with 19 points.
The game style and pace indeed took a toll on the Pilgrims, who played mostly their starting five through the first three quarters. Lansing Christian’s standouts showed lots of hustle and forced a number of the Eagles’ 24 turnovers. But only two starters were around for the final minutes.
“That’s how we’ve played all year long. We’ve got great kids on the bunch, but a lot of them are just getting their start in the game of basketball,” Lansing Christian coach Steve Ernst said. “Certainly, that was a different type of game than we’ve seen this year.”
Still, it took a final jolt to get the Eagles moving on. And Hunter delivered it during a timeout, when he told his teammates that “this is our stage” and they needed to play to that level.
White had six of his points and three of his seven blocks during the fourth quarter. He also grabbed 12 rebounds for the game. Evelyn had six steals and Hunter had five.
“We’ve been in that situation before, and we just had to stick with each other,” said Evelyn, a top sub on last season’s team.
“For some reason, we always play better defense in crunch time. I guess that’s our fault, but we noticed they got tired. I guess we turned up the heat.”
Senior Skylar Ross led Lansing Christian with 23 points. Senior Josh Whitney had 16 and eight rebounds, and senior Jay Noyola had 14 points, 10 rebounds and five steals. Junior Jordan Terry added 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Lansing Christian finished 22-4 and tied its longest postseason run. The Pilgrims also made the Semifinals in 1984.
“Certainly we appreciate being able to play on this big stage,” Ernst said, “and the tremendous group of seniors who helped transform this program in a short period of time. We’re proud of their effort, and we were excited to play a program like Southfield Christian.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Southfield Christian's Lindsey Hunter IV rises toward the basket during Thursday's Class D Semifinal at the Breslin Center. (Middle) Southfield Christian's Bakari Evelyn (22) works to get around Lansing Christian's Jay Noyola while Pilgrims coach Steve Ernst directs his players from the sideline. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.
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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.)