EAST LANSING – The first time Detroit Country Day faced this Lansing Sexton team during a Finals weekend, the Yellowjackets won an MHSAA championship.
But coach Kurt Keener knew that night in 2010 wouldn’t be the last his team would run into these Big Reds.
The rematch came in last season’s Semifinals – a Sexton win that was a little about revenge, but more about earning a chance to break a 51-season title drought.
When the top-ranked Big Reds faced No. 3 Country Day in yet another Semifinal on Friday, it was about finishing one of the most incredible two-season runs in MHSAA history. And Sexton earned that opportunity with a 74-59 win.
“We’ve come a long way since we started this out our sophomore year,” said Sexton senior Jeff Cain, one of six current Big Reds who played on the 2010 team. “We had a shaky start, 6-4 I think, and people started to doubt us. But we had a team meeting, we got it together, and we’ve been on a roll ever since.”
In the Lansing basketball community, that team meeting has become legendary. It’s impossible to argue with the results.
Since falling to Country Day 71-47 in the 2010 Class B Final, Sexton has gone 52-3 and won its first MHSAA title – last season, also in Class B – since 1960. Now the Big Reds will face No. 7 Stevensville Lakeshore in the last championship game of the winter, at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Keener has seen more than most over 34 seasons and 653 wins. So when he raves, it comes with an extra punch.
His biggest Friday came for Sexton’s 6-foot-6 senior Denzel Valentine, this season’s Associated Press Class B Player of the Year and a Michigan State recruit. He had 12 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and five steals – and drew a Keener comparison as the best big passing guard since Lansing Everett legend Magic Johnson.
Senior Anthony Clemmons (Iowa) led with 21 points, and senior guard Bryn Forbes (Cleveland State) followed with 19. Junior forward Jalen Hayes added 12. Total, the Big Reds shot 59 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Yellowjackets by 12. Sexton led by at least 10 for the final 15:31.
“We played a tough schedule, but that’s the best basketball team we’ve played this season,” Keener said. “They have no weakness. They have no weak player."
And yet, the Big Reds (26-1) made enough mistakes – like 19 turnovers – to look forward at Saturday’s Final with some added motivation.
“You don’t always win pretty,” Sexton coach Carlton Valentine said. “(But) I don’t give them enough credit. They work hard. They execute the game player. They find a way to win games. We weren’t the smartest offensively tonight, but we made plays when we needed to.”
Country Day finished 21-6. Senior Robert Puleikis led the Yellowjackets with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Austin Price had 11 points and sophomore Edmond Price had 10.
Click for box score or to watch the game and press conferences at MHSAA.tv.
PHOTO: Sexton senior Jeff Cain drives past Country Day senior Robert Puleikis during Friday's Semifinal. (Photo courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.)