Boys hoops rewind: Dan Fife finally gets his crown

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Fans who were looking for some drama at the boys basketball semifinals and finals at Breslin Center certainly got their share of it during the three days.

Dan Fife had waited a half-century to play or coach on the biggest stage for a chance to lift the state-championship trophy. On Saturday, Fife’s dream became reality when Clarkston defeated top-ranked Grand Rapids Christian and Michigan State-bound Xavier Tillman, 75-69, in the Class A title game.

Clarkston (27-1) played the near-perfect game, shooting 51.1 percent and holding a 26-21 rebounding advantage while turning the ball over just six times.

Junior guard Foster Loyer, a Michigan State commit, scored 29, setting the tempo by making three 3-pointers during the final 2:45 of the opening quarter to give Clarkston a 20-12 lead.

Clarkston never surrendered the lead to hand Fife his first state championship in his 35 years of leading the program.

Goricki’s boys basketball state finals MVPs

“It’s really unexplainable right now, I really don’t know how to put it,” said Fife, the state’s fourth all-time winningest coach (677-169). “All I know is that I’ve been through three high-school gyms at Clarkston during my tenure.

“I’m proud of our kids. You know, I’ve said this before but I really truly meant it. Clarkston is a special place, I think, one, because we have just one high school in our district, and we have great support from our administration, our teachers, our families. And I don’t think you can be successful in athletics, especially in today’s world, if you don’t have that kind of support from everyone that’s involved in this program, which everybody really is. It’s just a great place to raise children and be involved with kids.”

Fife was thrilled to have his wife, three sons — including Michigan State assistant Dane Fife — and 10 grandchildren in attendance to watch his biggest achievement in coaching.

Meanwhile, Michigan State fans have to be looking forward to watching Tillman play for the Spartans next year, after his 25-point performance, making 12 of 15 shots from the floor, along with Loyer, coming to East Lansing soon after.

Fife feels fortunate to have Loyer for another year. And, who knows, a repeat is not out of the question with 6-foot-9 sophomore Taylor Currie (16 points, 10 rebounds) making strides.

Make it 83 in a row

If you wanted some drama, that definitely came Thursday night when Powers North Central legitimized its state-record winning streak with a thrilling, 84-83 double-overtime victory over Southfield Christian in a Class D semifinal.

Powers North Central’s record streak — at 81 games entering the semifinal — came after Southfield Christian moved up to Class C, where it was knocked out of the state tournament the previous two years by eventual champion Flint Beecher.

Southfield Christian had won three straight Class D state championships (2012-14) before moving up, leaving the door open for Powers North Central to earn consecutive state titles.

For Powers North Central to win three straight, it had to go through Southfield Christian, a team which moved back this season — and was battle tested while playing against several Class A and B powers, even earning wins over North Farmington, a Class A state finalist last year, and West Bloomfield, which advanced to the Class A state semifinals this season.

The past five Class D state champions went toe-to-toe, forcing overtime, then another overtime before it was decided.

It looked like the streak would end at 81 when Brock Washington knocked down a 3-pointer to give Christian an 83-82 lead with 10 seconds left.

After a timeout with seven seconds left, Powers North Central’s Dawson Bilski’s long pass found Seth Polfus behind Christian’s defense. Polfus first fumbled the ball, then located where he was near the baseline before tossing the ball up toward the basket as time expired — with the ball bouncing around the cylinder before falling in.

Powers North Central players knew the significance of the win, carrying Polfus around Breslin Center floor in celebration, bringing the consecutive streak win total to 82 with 83 to follow two days later with a 78-69 victory over Buckley. Powers North Central finished 28-0.

Powers North Central also set a state-finals record for points in a quarter, scoring 38 in the opening quarter against Buckley when Bilski connected on all seven of his shots, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range for 18 points.

“During warmups, I couldn’t miss, I mean every shot I did felt perfect,” he said. “Then when I came out and hit those first two 3’s, it was just like warmups,” Bilski said.

So, what were his teammates thinking when Bilski was on his hot streak?

“Keep giving him the ball,” said 6-5 senior Jason Whitens, a Mr. Basketball finalist, of Bilski, who finished with 25 on 8-for-9 shooting.

Whitens, who lost one basketball game in four years as a starter, scored 23 on 8-for-11 shooting.

Powers North Central shot 61.9 percent for the game.

A Macomb miracle

Want some more drama?

Ludington (25-3) forced some problems for River Rouge with its 1-2-2 and 2-1-2 zones and halfcourt traps to battle back from a nine-point deficit with 1:48 left in the Class B semifinal Friday night to force overtime, then came back from a five-point OT deficit to earn a 51-50 victory when Joshua Laman knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner as time expired.

It was Laman’s first 3-pointer of the season after coming into the game 0-for-9.

Ludington’s magical season ended in the title game with a 45-36 loss to New Haven.

Ludington caused New Haven’s problems with the same defensive scheme, forcing New Haven to score fewer than 63 for the first time this season.

But New Haven’s size, consisting of 6-6 sophomore RomeoWeems, 6-7 junior Ashton Sherrell and 6-5 senior Eric Williams proved too much for Ludington, which was held scoreless for the first 61/2minutes of the fourth quarter — as New Haven went on a 12-0 run to close out the game.

With the victory, New Haven (27-1) became just the second Macomb County team to win a state championship and the first since St. Clair Shores Lake Shore won the Class B title in 1994.

No cupcakes here

Powers North Central wasn’t the lone three-time state champ.

Flint Beecher got the job done in Class C, defeating Grand Rapids Covenant Christian 73-58, taking care of business with a 21-9 fourth quarter.

Malik Ellison, who scored 63 in a triple-overtime loss to New Haven in late February, scored 32, with Iowa State All-America guard Monte Morris looking on. It was Morris who led Beecher to consecutive state titles in 2012 and ’13.

Beecher coach Mike Williams said his team’s schedule prepared it for the title run. Beecher defeated defending Class A state champion U-D Jesuit, 59-57, and Class A power Macomb Dakota, 77-70, while losing Class A power Detroit East English, 84-74, and eventual Class B state champion New Haven, 108-104.

“I really believe our schedule really prepared us for this,” said Williams, who has guided Beecher to five state titles in the last six years. “We describe the game like a fight and you have to be able to take a punch and be able to give one back.

“We came out swinging and they took a punch and they came right back at us. I felt like our kids were resilient and when it was time to apply the pressure and do what we needed to do to put the game away we did it.”