Undefeated Brimley Primed for Big Time

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

February 8, 2019


BRIMLEY — Rankings are nice, but the Brimley boys are looking for more as they roll through this basketball season.

The Bays, ranked No. 1 statewide in Division 4 by The Associated Press, improved to 16-0 with a 72-46 triumph over St. Ignace on Tuesday.

Brimley’s run has continued a progression that saw the varsity finish 5-16 in 2014-15 and then add to its win total every season over the next three – going 20-5 and winning a District title last winter.

“Part of the reason for our success is team chemistry,” said 6-foot-3 junior guard Zach Gross. “We went undefeated from the fifth grade on. We’re excited about the ranking, but that only motivates us to work harder. We know there’s a target on our back. Everybody wants to beat the No. 1 team in the state.”

The Bays are well aware of the challenges in store for them during the postseason, where expectations will be high to match that top ranking.

The U.P. has enjoyed a wave of success in the smallest-school bracket especially this decade (the classification changed from Class D to Division 4 beginning this school year). North Central won three straight Class D titles from 2015-17 and also made the Semifinals in 2013. Dollar Bay made the Semifinals last season, following appearances as well by Eben Junction Superior Central in 2011, Carney-Nadeau in 2012 and Cedarville in 2014. Cedarville also made the Quarterfinals last season, losing to Dollar Bay, and has won six Regional titles over the last 10 years.

Brimley took a major step toward assuming a place among the elite, clinching the Eastern Upper Peninsula Conference title last week, outpacing Cedarville and Engadine after finishing second to the Trojans last season.

“Rudyard, Engadine and Cedarville have the strongest teams, which helps us get ready for the tournaments,” Gross said. “Rudyard has a very good defensive team, and Engadine has a run-and-gun offense. They (Engadine) have Andrew Blanchard, who’s a senior guard and a great athlete.”

Brimley posted an 89-78 victory at Rudyard on Friday. The Bays also defeated the Bulldogs 80-74 at home Dec. 13.

“Rudyard played a great game here,” said Brimley coach Joel Moore. “That was our closest game, although we had one guy injured. Another was sick and Marcus (Harris) was cramping up. Engadine was probably our toughest game (in a 79-67 victory Jan. 25). They match up with us pretty well. They can score in bunches.”

The Bays have shown on numerous occasions they also can score in bunches, which was evident in their 104-70 victory at Engadine on Dec. 6.

“The transition game is our strength,” said Harris, a 5-10 senior guard. “We have a lot of speed. We’re kind of an explosive team. We’re capable of putting up 90 points on any given night.”

Brimley is also aware of the possibility of teams taking the air out of the ball as DeTour attempted Nov. 30 when the Bays won 83-49.

“They tried to go with a delay offense,” said Harris. “We jumped on them early, then it was 13-13 after the first quarter. I think that prepares you a bit. There’s always a chance we could see that in the District.”

“If we see that in the District, I think we’ll be prepared for it,” 6-0 senior forward Hunter Lipponen added. “Our transition game has worked well. We don’t have the real big guy, so everybody has to be able to handle the ball. We have the ball handlers. We also have the speed, and we try to utilize that.”

A victory over Bay Mills Ojibwe Charter in the District opener Feb. 25 at Rudyard would set up a third meeting with Engadine two nights later. The District championship game is set for March 1.

“Ojibwe plays with a lot of pride and heart,” said Moore. “We can’t overlook anybody. Sometimes the hardest thing is to get out of the District because the teams are very familiar with each other. We have to stay humble and hungry. We can’t put much stock into the rankings.”

But the Bays can take confidence from what they’ve accomplished so far.

Brimley opened its season on a positive note, winning 73-49 at Cedarville.

“We hadn’t done that in about 15 years, which kind of set the tone,” Lipponen said. “Cedarville runs a 1-3-1 and 2-2-1 zone press and a half-court trap. You have to be able to make the right passes.”

Brimley visits Newberry tonight, and after Pickford for Parents Night on Feb. 15 hosts Harbor Springs Harbor Light Christian and travels to Sault Ste. Marie to close the regular season.

If the Bays win the District, they could potentially see Cedarville for the third time or Ski Valley Conference leader Pellston in the Regional. At that point, Brimley would be seeking its first Regional title since 1995, when it won its fourth in six seasons.

“Pellston is pretty good,” said Lipponen. “We saw them at team camp. They have a big guy underneath who has some very nice footwork.

“It’s very exciting. But we have to take it one game at a time.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Senior Tristen Lyons brings the ball up court during Brimley’s first game this season against Newberry, an 83-55 win Dec. 19. (Middle) Senior Dylan Carrick unloads a 3-point try against Superior Central in a 69-57 win Dec. 15. (Photos courtesy of the Brimley athletic department.)

Ferndale Caps Winter Season with 1st Boys Hoops Title Since 1966

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

March 25, 2023

EAST LANSING – One team was going to end a long championship drought in Saturday’s boys basketball Division 2 Final.

Ferndale’s was especially lengthy, and spanned more than five decades.

And now it is no longer.

The Eagles won their first Finals championship in 57 years with a 44-38 victory over Grand Rapids South Christian at Breslin Center.

Ferndale had last won a state title in 1966.

“The drought is over,” Eagles coach Juan Rickman said. “That’s big time, and the biggest part about making it down here was seeing how charged up the community was and the school was so charged up. It’s the greatest feeling to see how vested our community was in our success.”

Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim.Ferndale senior Christopher Williams led the way with 16 points and four rebounds.

“It feels great,” Williams said. “Especially since the past four years we’ve been to the same place and lost twice in a row to the same team, and now it feels like weight is lifted off my shoulders.

“We started off the season 1-5, and going till now we knew if we stayed together through adversity then we could do it. And it made it more impactful that it was our coach’s first state title, and that’s what we wanted to do.”

Added senior point guard Cameron Reed, who had a game-high seven assists: “It’s incredibly special. I wasn't born back then, my teammates weren’t born and my coaches weren’t born. It definitely rejuvenated the whole city and community.”

Ferndale led 8-4 at the end of the first quarter, and both teams shot poorly in the first half. The Eagles connected on a paltry 24 percent from the field, and South Christian on 35 percent of its attempts. Nate Brinks drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Sailors a 16-14 halftime lead. 

Junior guard Jake Vermaas opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to make it 19-14, but Ferndale made a charge.

The Eagles sliced the deficit to one (25-24) on a 3-pointer by Trenton Ruth, and Cameron Reed tied it at 28-28 with an acrobatic layup.

“Our team was mentally strong, and I’m so proud of them for their accomplishment,” Rickman said. “Just so committed to the process and just being resilient.”

Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.An 8-2 spurt by Ferndale over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter made it 36-30.

“That was extremely important, and we always want to win the first four minutes,” Rickman said. “And we tried to open up the fourth quarter with what we call a kill; we want to get five straight stops and score on two or three of those possessions so we can build a lead. We did that fairly well against a good team.”

South Christian was attempting to win football and basketball Finals championships during the same school year, and was looking for its first basketball title since 2005.

“It was a really hard-fought game and I thought we played at our speed, but it got away from us a little bit,” first-year Sailors coach Taylor Johnson said.

“But it doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year. We’ve been through it all, including three season-ending injuries, and to still make it to the state finals is an incredible feat.”

Senior Jacob DeHaan and Vermaas led the Sailors with 14 points apiece, while senior Sam Medendorp added seven points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Ferndale raises the Division 2 championship trophy Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim. (Below) Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.