Ferndale boys basketball beats Grand Rapids South Christian for Division 2 state title
EAST LANSING — Saturday night’s Division 2 state basketball final was hectic, frenzied and unpolished — precisely the type of contest in which Grand Rapids South Christian excels.
But when Ferndale became accustomed to the chaos, they flipped the game with a second-half rally and came away with a 44-38 victory and their first state title since 1966.
After Jake Vermaas’ layup put South Christian ahead, 25-19, with 3:05 to play in the third quarter, the Eagles went on a tear.
Ferndale made a run to go up 38-31 with a trio of 3s by Trenton Ruth, Noah Blocker and Cameron Reed, plus three more quick-transition buckets Christopher Williams, Reed, Markiese Young and Blocker.
The Eagles continued to be effective by spreading the ball around in the final four minutes, with Caleb Renfroe getting a layup off an inbounds pass and Blocker had a backdoor layup with 1:41 to play.
MICK McCABE:Anyone but the usual crew delivers Detroit Cass Tech's first-ever state basketball title
“I kept telling myself, if I wasn’t going to make shots, then I’ve got to do other things than just shoot the ball and score. I had to get back on defense, get charges, bring some energy to the team,” said Blocker, whose seven points all came in the fourth quarter. “I had to be sure I was going to be the ‘energy guy’ on the team so we can pick ourselves back up and get the W.”
Coach Juan Rickman said the run came at the right time for the Eagles.
“We try to open up the fourth quarter with what we call ‘The kill,’ where we want to get five straight stops and score on at least two or three of those possessions so that we can build a lead,” he said. “I think we did that fairly well. They’re a good team and I thought our intensity picked up.”
Even though the shots started falling for Ferndale, Vermaas made sure South Christian hung around by scoring the team’s final seven points, making all free throws on a fouled 3-point attempt, and two driving layups in the final 1:04.
But Ruth answered for Ferndale by sinking both ends of a one-and-one, and South Christian’s last three desperation 3-pointers were off the mark.
The Sailors shook off an uncharacteristic first half where they missed their first nine 3-point attempts, only sank two of their first nine attempts from the floor and didn’t make a free throw until the middle of the second quarter — expending most of their energy into breaking Ferndale’s full-court press.
But they caused enough havoc at the other end of the floor, forcing seven Ferndale turnovers, grabbing 13 defensive rebounds (five different players had at least one) and Sam Medendorp blocked three layup attempts in the first four minutes.
DIVISION 1:Cass Tech takes state title in physical affair from Muskegon
DIVISION 3:Robert Lee Jr. guides Flint Beecher to 10th title with 64-50 win over TC St. Francis
DIVISION 4:Munising topples Wyoming Tri-unity Christian for state title
When Nate Brinks beat the halftime buzzer with South Christian’s first 3 of the night — for his first points — it gave the Sailors a 16-14 lead, along with momentum going into the locker room.
And Vermaas — held scoreless in the first half — drained another on the opening possession of the second half.
“It was a hard-fought game; I thought we got off to a slow start,” Rickman said. “The game was favoring South Christian’s way with possessions being low and the speed of the game. We talked about that at halftime; we needed to speed it up. We told our guards if they wake up and play a little smarter, we had a shot to win this game.”
Ferndale (21-8) finally made good on its third consecutive trip to the Breslin Center, getting eliminated in the semifinals the two prior seasons. The Eagles only suffered one loss in their final 18 games, falling to North Farmington on Feb. 28.
It was the first loss in 18 games, dating back to Jan. 24, for South Christian (25-4). The Sailors, who last won a basketball championship in 2005, captured the Division 4 football crown last fall.
“Credit to Ferndale, they had three really good presses and they really mixed it up and Juan really gets his guys after it. They’re long, athletic guys,” said Taylor Johnson, South Christian’s first-year coach. “Once we calmed down there in the second quarter, I feel we made some really good adjustments that really helped us actually score off their press. That’s where we really needed to get to. It’s a tough turnaround, no excuses, That first quarter probably didn’t help us, and we had some late turnovers as well.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: MHSAA boys basketball: Ferndale tops GR South Christian in Division 2