EAST LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — After a crazy week, the South Christian team was challenged once again at the state semifinal Friday night at the Breslin Center.
The trouble started three days earlier, when the Sailors (25-3) had the challenge of taking on their rival, Unity Christian, in the State Quarterfinal. But they lost a key piece of their team just one game before, in the regional final against Hamilton.
Sophomore Carson Vis broke both of his wrists in the first quarter, who was averaging over 20 points per game coming into play. They went on to win 82-47, but found out they lost a star player for the season.
South Christian responded in the state quarterfinal with a dominating 61-38 victory over the Crusaders in front of a sold out Van Noord Arena.
That earned them a date in the Division 2 State Semifinal with Romulus Summit (25-2), a team who hadn’t lost since Feb. 26.
This time around it was a lot closer, but the Sailors willed their way to a 40-35 overtime victory and will play for a state championship on Saturday evening at 6:45 p.m. against Ferndale.
In a week full of ups and downs, all Jake Vermaas could do was grin following the victory.
“I mean this is the best part of it, right?” Vermaas said. “Playing your rival, losing your best player, people telling you you can’t do it, people telling you you’re not the favorite anymore. I mean, I like it personally.”
This will be the fifth time the Sailors have played for a state title, and their first trip since 2005. Ferndale hasn’t won one since 1966.
No bucket was given as a hand out in the first half. There was only one 3-pointer made in the first half and neither squad shot over 50%.
Still, it was the Sailors going to their trustworthy leader Jacob DeHaan time and time again, as he scored 12 of the Sailors’ 19 points in the first half.
In the second half, Summit made adjustments and started to put doubles on DeHaan, who led the Sailors with 14 points. He did not have a bucket in the third quarter, and as a result got to within two of the lead, 23-21, with just over a minute to play until the fourth.
Johnson called a timeout to try to settle things down for his team. There were moments of adversity that his team had to overcome all night, but this was the toughest.
“What a battle man, just two great teams going and it and they wouldn’t let up on us,” Johnson said. “I told them to just stick with what they were doing and keep grinding on defense, you just have to find a way.”
It worked, as Sam Medendorp would score back-to-back buckets to end the frame, giving the Sailors some breathing room with a 27-21 advantage heading to the final eight minutes.
Summit wouldn’t go away, though. They clawed their way back into the game, trailing 31-28 with 2:33 to play. Then Summit’s Dominic Krzesowiak hit his second 3-pointer of the game, tying it at 31 all. With the South Christian student section making themselves heard for the remainder of the game, the Sailors wanted to take the roof off the building with one final blow.
Vermaas, who had 12 points, had a chance to win it on a short pull up but the ball rattled around the rim, popped up in the air and out. Overtime was needed.
In the four minutes of extended time, Summit started with a shot that appeared to count as a triple from James Wright, but turned out to be a 2-pointer with his foot on the line.
Regardless, the Sailors needed someone to step up and get them a bucket, as they trailed for the first time since the first quarter at 3-2.
As the whole floor pulled one way following Vermaas driving to the bucket, he stopped hard, turned and kicked it to a wide open Nate Brinks on the right wing with a chance to give the Sailors the lead.
Splash. The senior netted the triple, giving South Christian a 34-33 advantage. Vermaas and DeHaan sank free throws, making it a 38-33 game, which proved to be enough.
Johnson said Brinks is a player who does more than he gets credit for with this Sailors team.
Little did anyone know, he had six points with a rebound and assist tonight on a torn labrum he’s been playing through.
“Nate has made a lot of big three’s for us,” Johnson said. “Even playing through a torn labrum, he never complains. I don’t know if I subbed him more than once tonight. You talk about a competitor, but his on-ball defense was great all night as well.”
It’s just another example of the narrative around this team: tough and gritty.
They will take that same mantra to the floor one final time tomorrow with a shot at a fourth state championship in school history at the Breslin Center.
For their leader DeHaan, it’s just another chance to keep this crazy ride going in the right direction.
“All our team talks about is adversity,” DeHaan said. “We want to play in the biggest moments. As a competitor, that’s exactly what you want to do — play on the biggest stages against the best teams. This team is full of those guys.”