Class C semifinals: G.R. NorthPointe Christian, Flint Beecher advance
East Lansing — Preston Huckaby did everything he possibly could Thursday afternoon at the Breslin Center to make sure Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian would get the chance to play for its first state championship.
Huckaby, a 5-foot-11 senior guard, had 26 points and nine rebounds to lead NorthPointe Christian (21-5) to a 48-45 win over Boyne City in a Class C semifinal.
NorthPointe Christian's reward is a 4:30 p.m. championship game date Saturday against Flint Beecher (25-1), a 71-43 semifinal winner over Hanover-Horton, seeking its third state title in the last four years.
Huckaby scored 11 of his points during the second quarter to bring the Mustangs back from a 20-8 deficit. He started an 18-6 run to end the first half with a driving layup, then ended it with a another driving layup to pull even at 26 just before time expired.
"I knew I needed to be more aggressive," said Huckaby, who was forced to point guard duties after 6-5 senior Andrew Holesinger got into foul trouble. Holesinger picked up three first-half fouls, limiting him to nine points in 19 minutes.
Still, Huckaby and Holesinger had to come up with big defensive plays down the stretch to have the Mustangs escape with the victory.
After NorthPointe Christian opened up an 11-point lead (44-33) with a minute left in the third following Josh Combs' second 3-pointer of the quarter, Boyne City (21-6) picked up the pressure defensively to force turnovers and get back in the game.
Boyne City senior Cole Butler made big plays to put Boyne City in position to win.
Butler scored 16, including three 3-pointers in the opening quarter for a 17-8 lead. He started the fourth-quarter comeback with a three-point play (basket and free throw).
Boyne City pulled within a single point (46-45) when Dalton Gardner scored off a driving layup, then Tanner Kruzel in transition following a steal with two minutes left.
That's when Holesinger and Huckaby came up with game-saving defensive plays during the final two minutes.
First, Holesinger — playing with four fouls — blocked Kruzel's inside shot with 1:20 left and NorthPointe Christian leading by one.
"There was a loose ball and the kid (Kruzel) got the rebound, he drove in and I knew it was either a foul or blocked shot, but I was not giving up a layup so I just went up and ended up blocking it," Holesinger said.
Then, Holesinger had his shot blocked at the other end by Zacharie Napont with 40 seconds left, giving Boyne City one more chance to take the lead. Butler dribbled down the baseline when Huckaby stepped in and took the charge, wiping away the basket.
"He might be our all-time leading scorer in school history, but in my three years at NorthPointe he's probably taken 75 charges," said NorthPointe Christian coach Jared Redell of Huckaby. "He does a great job of putting his body on the line."
Butler's 3-pointer from the left wing bounced off the rim as time expired. Kruzel scored eight for Boyne City (21-6) with Corey Redman limited to six points (2-of-9 shooting) while being hampered with a foot injury.
Flint Beecher 71, Hanover-Horton 43: Beecher dominated Hanover-Horton (24-2) from the start, forcing 10 turnovers with its pressure defense to take a 20-point (23-3) first quarter lead, then increasing the cushion to 31 (44-13) at halftime.
"I'm ecastic with how our kids came out and played," said Beecher coach Mike Williams said. "We really took it to them from the beginning."
Yes, Beecher did, scoring the game's first 11 points. Beecher forced turnovers with its press and halfcourt trap and 5-9 senior guard Samuel Toins was left open in transition and consistently made three-pointers, 3-of-4 long-range shots in the opening quarter.
"I just wanted to get off to a quick start and start my team off fast," said Toins, who scored 20 with senior guard Cedric Moten finishing with 18. "Last year was such a heartbreaker and we didn't want to feel that pain like last year."
Beecher lost to Pewamo-Westphalia 42-41 in last year's quarterfinal.
"We just kept pressuring the ball-handler and then it starts getting in their heads," said sophomore guard Malik Ellison of Beecher's press that forced Hanover-Horton into 21 turnovers.
Preston Laketa, a 6-5 junior forward, had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Hanover-Horton.