By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – The last two weeks have seen Hudsonville Unity Christian thrust into the statewide spotlight with a pair of wins over teams expected to contend for this season’s Division 2 title.
But the Crusaders have belonged in that conversation all season as well, and showed why again Friday in clinching a spot in their first MHSAA boys basketball championship game since 1973.
Unity Christian ran its winning streak to 21 this winter with a 69-30 victory over Ludington in the night’s first Division 2 Semifinal at Breslin Center.
The impressive showing fit well following the Regional Final win over 2018 Class B champion Benton Harbor and Tuesday’s 36-point Quarterfinal win over Grand Rapids South Christian, which handed the Crusaders their last loss, by two on Dec. 21.
“We talked about flying under the radar because we’ve done that all year long, and that’s been a good thing – that’s fine with us,” Unity coach Scott Soodsma said. “I think we have just really turned it up a notch. These kids are just winners, and they were getting close to the end of their careers, and they want to go out champions. So I think they just actually on their own decided to turn it up a notch.”
Unity (25-2) will face River Rouge in Saturday’s 6:45 p.m. championship game. As noted, it will be the Crusaders’ first Final since 1973, and they also finished Class B runners-up in 1963.
But the program has been building toward this opportunity. Last week’s Regional title was its first since 2008, but Unity won its third straight league and District championships rolling toward the end of February.
The Crusaders led Friday for all but 59 seconds when the teams were tied early, and by double digits for the final 27 minutes. The lockdown defense added to a postseason effort that has seen Unity give up only 47 points on average over seven playoff wins.
“There was stuff we thought was open when we went in at halftime, but our offense was being played so far away from the basket and so far off the 3-point line that we had a heck of a time taking advantage of any of those things,” Ludington coach Thad Shank said.
“When you’re a team that can really pressure the ball like they do, you don’t even have to play great defense behind that ball pressure because it causes so much havoc.”
On the other side of the court, senior guard Noah Wiswary was the only Unity scorer in double figures with 17 points. But while 12 players got on the board, the team’s shooting percentage stayed at a sparkling 59 percent from the floor for the game. Unity also had 18 assists on 29 field goals.
“We just want to win. That’s all we want to do,” Wiswary said. “We just want to get the state championship. We want to win, and sharing the ball is the best way to do that, so that’s what we do.”
Senior forward T.J. VanKoevering added eight points and six rebounds for the Crusaders.
Senior guard Joshua Laman led Ludington with nine points.
Although ending on a tough note, the Orioles provided one of the surprises of the tournament. They entered the postseason 9-10, but defeated five opponents all with at least 13 wins to make it to the Semifinals for the second time in three seasons. Ludington finished 14-11.
“Going into the postseason 9-10 definitely isn’t easy when you’ve got a bunch of people looking at you, looking at the first game of Districts and thinking oh, they don’t have a chance,” Ludington senior Sam Bandstra said. “But in the postseason we came together as a team. It wasn’t about us, and we came out and played as a team, and we shocked some people. When we’re playing the intense defense we were playing and really moving the ball and playing as a team – we came together at the right time.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Ludington’s Joshua Laman (11) works for a shot against Unity’s Derek Slager (22) and T.J. VanKoevering during Friday’s Division 2 Semifinal. (Middle) Unity’s Grant Balcer pushes the ball upcourt.
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.)