Powers North Central coach Adam Mercier stated that in the postgame interview that during senior Jason Whitens’ career, he has played “only about four games in single digits” out of 108. Whitens and his senior class at Powers North Central has lost just one contest, in the regional finals their freshman year, and they entered Thursday’s contest with an eighty-one game winning streak, the longest in MHSAA history. In order to earn their eighty-second win and a third straight bid in the Class D Championship game, they needed two overtimes and a buzzer-beater by perhaps the most improbable of all starters to defeat Southfield Christian 84-83.
The last team to win Class D other than Powers North Central, the Eagles gave the two-time defending champs all they could handle Thursday night in the Breslin Center. A team that Jason Whitens said they knew would be “the team that we would play if we got to this game”, Southfield brought a tough challenge to Powers North Central as they had size and athleticism unlike anyone in the Upper Peninsula. Led by co-Class D Player of the Year Bryce Washington (who shared the honors with Jason Whitens), this game was heralded as the best game out of any of the semifinals, and it lived up to the hype.
In the first quarter, these two teams battled back and forth and Southfield Christian held a slim 16-13 advantage. There was a moment in the second quarter in which it appeared that the Eagles may start to pull away, but a pair of key baskets by senior Dawson Bilski kept the Jets in it. Not long after, Whitens got rolling and his eleven points put Powers North Central up 31-30 at the break.
In the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 53, the Jets got their first big chance to take control of the game. Whitens was intentionally fouled by Caleb Hunter, and he hit the pair of free throws, paired with a two point field goal, giving the Jets their biggest lead of the contest. Southfield Christian took the punch and swung right back, as they cut the lead to a single point before Seth Polfus hit his first big shot of the night, a corner three that put the Jets up four.
This contest was tied at the end of the third quarter (53-53), and was neck and neck throughout the whole fourth quarter. With just 1:08 to play, Powers North Central held the ball and a one-point lead. Upon inbounding, it was stolen by sophomore Harlond Beverly who tossed it up to Bryce Washington, and his slam dunk put the Eagles up one with just 43.6 seconds left in the contest.
When Powers North Central came out of the timeout, everyone in Breslin Center knew that the ball was going to Whitens, yet Southfield Christian still somehow fouled him. The senior hit both free throws to give them a one point lead, but it would not stand. Beverly was fouled on his drive, and he split the pair, sending this contest to overtime.
In the first extra frame, Southfield Christian again held the lead late, this time it was 76-73 with under twenty-five seconds left. But again, the best player in the history of Upper Peninsula Basketball came up clutch. Whitens came up to aid in a broken play that he later stated was designed for Dawson Bilski, and he buried a three-pointer. This deep ball sent the game to a second overtime, after Beverly’s shot at the buzzer fell short.
Second overtime was similar to the first thirty-six minutes, as it was filled with dramatic moments. After the Jets had taken the 82-80 lead with nineteen seconds left, Southfield Christian called on their co-Player of the Year, Bryce Washington, and the junior buried a triple to give the Eagles the lead, just six and a half seconds away from breaking a state record winning streak. What happened next would go down amongst the greatest moments in the history of the MHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament.
Dawson Bilski caught the inbounds pass from Bobby Kleiman and dribbled toward the timeline. It was then that he saw Seth Polfus open at the other end of the court. Polfus bobbled the pass, somehow got the shot off past the outstretched defenders of the Eagles, and the ball hit the rim before falling in to give Powers North Central the 84-83 win. (Video with Credit to MLive’s Tony Garcia here)
Coach Adam Mercier lightheartedly said afterwards that they drew up two plays depending on how the Eagles were going to defend it, and they played defense at a level intermediate to those two. As a result, the improvisation led to the ball in the hands of the shortest player on the Powers North Central roster up amongst some length from Southfield Christian, and it all paid off. All four seniors present alongside Coach Mercier in the postgame press conference constantly reiterated the idea that the comradery on the team is the biggest reason for their success. While they only played six guys (Lucas Dombrowski only logged three minutes), they thanked the bench and the fans for constantly bringing energy and passion throughout the entire season.
With eighty-two consecutive wins in the bag (an ongoing state record), there is one thing left for these seniors to add to their legacy. A win on Saturday would result in the Jets becoming just the fifth program in the history of Class D Basketball to win three straight state championships, but as Mercier pointed out tonight, they already have cemented their place as one of the best teams in the history of MHSAA Boys Basketball.