Southfield Christian Takes Back D Title

March 24, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – After three seasons away, Southfield Christian returned to the Class D championship game Saturday.

And for the fourth time in seven seasons, the Eagles added their school to the list of MHSAA title winners as well, with a 64-54 clincher over Buckley at the Breslin Center.

The title was the program’s first since winning three straight from 2012-14, and after falling by a point in last season’s Semifinals to eventual champion Powers North Central.

“It just means a lot for us as a team,” said Eagles senior Bryce Washington, whose older brothers Blake and Brock both were part of past champions. “It puts us on the map. The last few years, people were like, ‘Whatever happened to Southfield Christian?’ We were still in the gym, still working, still a great team. It’s just great to be back here.”

Southfield Christian (23-4) showed all weekend it could get rolling in a hurry. Starting at the 5:57 mark of the first quarter Saturday, over the next 2:41 the Eagles went from a point down to 10 up. Junior Harlond Beverly scored 10 points, had a steal, two rebounds and a blocked shot. He made six of his first seven shots from the floor total in scoring his team’s first 11 points and 11 of the Eagles’ first 14.

“I didn’t even notice it was the first 11 points. I was just trying to play basketball and do what I do,” Beverly said. “The rim, it feels as big as the ocean. It was feeling good.”

Beverly finished with 23 points, seven rebounds, eight steals, six blocks and four assists.

“He brought a lot of energy, a lot of effort, and he can make great plays in transition and get us an easy one,” Southfield Christian coach Josh Baker said. “We struggled the rest of the game. His start, that was the game.”

The Eagles did have to fend off a second-half comeback attempt by Buckley, which returned to Breslin this weekend with the entire starting five that made it to last season’s championship game before falling 78-69 to North Central.

Southfield Christian pushed its lead to 22 on another Beverly basket with 4:27 to play in the second quarter, but the Bears came back with a 19-3 run over the next six minutes to cut the deficit to 38-32 two minutes into the third.

The Eagles pushed the lead back to 12 during the opening minute of the fourth quarter, and the Bears couldn’t get it back into single digits.

“We just never give up,” Buckley senior Denver Cade said. “We were in the same position last year, but it was a bigger margin. I just kept trying to pound that into (my teammates). I wasn’t having the best game myself, and I’ll probably regret that the rest of my life … but I tried to be a leader and put that motivation into them.”

Cade finished with eight points and nine rebounds. Senior guard Joey Weber led with 26 points, eight rebounds and three steals, and senior forward Austin Harris added 15 points and seven rebounds. All three were four-year varsity players and 1,000-point career scorers. “I’m missing them already,” Buckley coach Blair Moss said.

“We’re a little disappointed; the kids played their hearts out,” Moss added. “That’s a quality team out there. There’s not much to say. The kids worked their butts off, and they’ve been doing it for the last 10 years to get here. … We don’t see teams like that up north; let’s face it. They play in a Detroit league, they play up, and that’s why we try to play up to match that.”

Buckley (21-6) shared the Northwest Conference title this season with Frankfort and Maple City Glen Lake; the latter reached Saturday’s Class C championship game.

Southfield Christian won the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue and also played a nonleague schedule loaded with Class A and B opponents, including Class B semifinalist River Rouge, plus Class C finalist Detroit Edison.

“Part of the deal with our program and our mentality as a coaching staff is how do we get our guys better with every opportunity,” Baker said. “We want to play the best competition whenever we can.”

Junior guard Caleb Hunter added 13 points including four 3-pointers for Southfield Christian. Washington had 12 points and nine rebounds, and sophomore guard Da’Jion Humphrey had 11 points and seven rebounds.

Buckley finished 74-25 over the last four seasons, including 47-7 over the last two.

“Last year we said we have another crack at it, and now we don’t, of course,” Harris said. “But I wouldn’t want to trade these guys for anything. They worked hard and they helped me work hard and build my character up.

“A lot of people dream of losing their last high school game at the Breslin, and I got to share in that.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Southfield Christian’s Harlond Beverly works to get past Buckley’s Brock Beeman during the Class D championship game. (Middle) The Bears’ Joey Weber goes up for a shot at the Breslin Center.

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.)