Stunner Sends Ludington to Saturday

March 24, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – If older brother is right, Joshua Laman might not remember much of the aftermath of his first 3-pointer this season.

But it’s a shot Ludington – and probably River Rouge – will never forget.

Laman, a sophomore center, had missed all nine of his tries behind the arc entering Friday’s Class B Semifinal. But as the seconds ticked down in overtime, Orioles senior and older brother Noah Laman had the instinct to pass to Joshua stationed in the left corner.

What he tossed up was something of a right shoulder heave, a little like a shot put. But as the final second clicked off the clock, Joshua Laman’s 3-pointer dropped through the net, sending Ludington to its first Class B championship game since 1953 with a 51-50 win over River Rouge.

“I don’t even know if he is thinking right now,” Noah Laman said a few minutes later from the postgame press conference. “I don’t think words can describe what’s going through any of our heads right now."

“He’s thinking that when I get back in that locker room,” Ludington coach Thad Shank added, “he’s going to look Coach Shank in the eye and say, ‘Told you coach I should be shooting these 3s all year long.’ I know that’s what he’s thinking.”

Ludington (25-2) will take on New Haven at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the season’s final game at the Breslin Center. The Orioles have never won an MHSAA boys basketball title, falling to St. Joseph 60-51 in that lone appearance more than 60 years ago.

This was their first Semifinal since 1971, and they weren’t going to let the opportunity slip by even if they were perceived to be a slight underdog ranked No. 8 heading into the postseason while River Rouge came in No. 2.

It looked for most of the game like the poll was accurate. Although Ludington put together a few runs to keep the game knotted midway through the third quarter, the Panthers (24-2) gradually opened up a lead that reached nine points with 1:48 to play in regulation.

That’s when the first set of heroics came into play. Senior guard and leading scorer Calvin Hackert made two 3-pointers and a free throw, and Noah Laman added the other bucket as the Orioles closed the fourth quarter on a 9-0 run to send the game to overtime. 

River Rouge got up by five again midway through the extra period. But Ludington closed on a 7-1 run, with Joshua Laman’s winning shot coming after a Rouge turnover with 30 seconds to play and then two missed shots and offensive rebounds by the Orioles, who otherwise were outrebounded for the game 24-20. 

That turnover to set up the final possession was in addition to two more Panthers turnovers during the closing run of regulation. And Ludington pulled off the final charge after Hackert fouled out with his team still trailing by four.

“A couple times I told them hey, if on November 15 when we walked in this gym and we were down four or five points in the state Semifinal to River Rouge, would you take it?” Shank said. “We’ve gotta keep our heads up, and we’ve gotta keep fighting here.

“We are a pressure defensive team, and we have a lot of respect for Rouge and their quickness, and we haven’t played a team with that level of quickness to this point. So we didn’t really aggressively go after River Rouge like we do most teams. But the fact that that’s part of our package I think was huge down the stretch of the game, that that’s what we’re comfortable doing. It wasn’t something we were just throwing out, full court pressure that we’d never used before.”

River Rouge coach Mark White – who previously led Detroit Renaissance to Class A titles in 2004 and 2006 – could sense Ludington was working toward a dramatic end. 

He said it was his Panthers’ worst game this season – and obviously the worst time for it. But how Ludington pulled off its last-second success wasn’t lost on him.

“Well, luck is something that’s created. We got a defensive stop, and we teach and emphasize that defense isn’t over until we get the rebound,” White said. “And we didn’t finish the defensive possession. We got them to miss a couple shots, and there were a couple loose balls. It went down to that determination factor, and Ludington wanted it, by their behavior, more than we did … and again, when you give as much as they did, the basketball gods are on your side because you deserve and that happens in March.”

Sophomore Darian Owens-White led River Rouge with 19 points, and junior Jayvien Torrance added 10.

Hackert led Ludington with 20 points, and Joshua Laman had 11. Also worth noting, junior center Will Sadler had seven points, making all three of his shots including his only 3-pointer this winter as well.

Laman’s final shot led to a pile of Orioles players in Breslin’s southwest corner, right in front of a sea of orange-clad fans taking up nearly three full sections of the lower bowl. 

“We can tell how big a deal it is just by the support of the community,” Hackert said. “The crowd was electric tonight, and it shows how much they revolve around us and really support us. And to be playing in the state championship, it’s just awesome. I can’t even explain it.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ludington’s Calvin Hackert puts up a shot as a River Rouge defender works to block his path. (Middle) Rouge’s Darian Owens-White goes up for a layup on the way to scoring 19 points.

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.)