Saturday’s second contest came with even higher expectations than the first. The Grand Rapids Christian Eagles, winners of all 27 of their previous contests, took on the 26-1 Clarkston Wolves in the Class A Boys Basketball Championship. In Coach Dan Fife’s thirty-five years at the helm, it was his school’s first appearance on Championship Saturday. For the Eagles, they were looking for the school’s first State Title since 1938, when they were in Class B and defeated Flint St. Michael 25-12.
The offense in the contest was far superior to that ball game seventy-nine years ago, as the two teams nearly passed that total in the first quarter alone. In the game’s first eight minutes, future Spartans Xavier Tillman and Foster Loyer went back and forth on the offensive side. While Tillman finished all of his eight points inside the paint, Loyer opted to stick behind the three point line, as he finished with nine in the opening frame.
Though the Eagles only led this contest for ninety-four seconds, they were always right on the cusp. They had cut the lead down to just three points, and they appeared to be headed into the locker room in a one possession contest until the long rebounded reached Clarkston’s Christopher Robinson. He barely caught this ball, it would be more accurate to say that he grasped possession, and he got it up in the air before the buzzer. This fifteen foot jumper would boost the Wolves to a 34-29 lead heading into the locker room.
The second half was almost even as the Wolves outscored Grand Rapids Christian 41-40 in the final sixteen minutes. There were three matchups that were highlighted in yesterday’s postgame radio broadcast and recap article that were expected to be the difference in this contest. The first was the backcourt duel of perhaps the two best junior guards in the state in Foster Loyer and Duane Washington Jr. Loyer took the upper hand in this battle, as he finished today with 29 points, on eight of sixteen shooting, to go alongside five rebounds and three assists. Washington was also solid, finishing the game with sixteen points on six of twelve shooting, and they both made four three-point baskets.
In the frontcourt there was a pair of battles that were expected to be huge in determining today’s winner. Grand Rapids Christian’s success throughout the year had been so predicated on the fact that there are no teams in West Michigan that could handle two dynamic post players at once, so if Currie and Alderson could limit these two from going off, the team would stand a solid chance to win. A battle of future Horizon league foes in Dylan Alderson (Milwaukee) and James Beck II (Oakland) was almost even today, but with a slight edge to Alderson. Alderson finished with twelve points on four of twelve shooting, and he also collected a pair of rebounds. For Beck, he was quiet as a result of foul trouble (he eventually fouled out), but he finished three of six for eight points while collecting six rebounds. The second frontcourt match up included senior Mr. Basketball finalist Xavier Tillman and sophomore Taylor Currie. While Tillman definitely got his fix, finishing with twenty-five points, seven rebounds and four assists, Currie’s play, especially on the glass was instrumental in their victory. The sophomore collected ten rebounds, including four on the offensive end of the floor, to go along with sixteen points.
An X-Factor in today’s contest was Clarkston’s Christopher Robinson. In addition to his buzzer-beater in the second quarter, Robinson also opened the second half with a three point basket. The junior guard drew a huge offensive foul on James Beck in the middle of the third quarter, and also later ended that quarter with a basket. For the game, Robinson was four of five with fourteen points, and his play was crucial to the Wolves’ success.
After 35 years and 677 wins, Coach Dan Fife finally got his well-deserved State Championship title, a 75-69 win. The fourth winningest coach in the history of MHSAA Boys Basketball has always had fantastic basketball players and teams, so it was fantastic to see that he got his championship. Next year, they will have a solid chance to repeat as they return a dynamic guard in Foster Loyer, a blossoming post player in Taylor Currie, and starters Nicholas Wells and Christopher Robinson.
For Coach Warners and the Eagles, though they fell short of their ultimate goal, their season was remarkable. Though I only attended four of their games, they were a fun bunch to watch and they utilized their unique roster dynamic in tremendous fashion. Coach Warners always seemed to know which player needed to have the ball, and the team was without question a top team in Class A this year. Next year, they will still have Duane Washington, Seth Millner and Tre Vallar from their rotation, so they will be the favorite again in the OK Gold, and to compete for another playoff run.