By Tom Markowski
Special to Second Half
STERLING HEIGHTS – Three times coach Rick Bye took Sterling Heights Stevenson to the MHSAA Finals in football.
Since the mid-1980s few schools in the Metro Detroit area have a football program as successful as that at Stevenson. Since 1985, Stevenson has qualified for the football playoffs 20 times. Twelve times the Titans won 10 or more games. During one stretch they reached the Semifinals six consecutive seasons (1993-98).
The baseball program has thrived recently under coach Joe Emanuele. The Titans won the Division 1 title in 2005, reached the Semifinals twice (2011 and 2013) and went to the Quarterfinals in 2014.
But in boys basketball, the Titans have not been able to compete at nearly as high a level as football and baseball. Before this season, Stevenson had one Regional title.
Now it has two.
Stevenson (20-4) defeated Roseville, 60-44, last Wednesday in a Class A Regional Final. The Titans will face North Farmington (22-2) in tonight’s 7 p.m. Quarterfinal at Calihan Hall at the University of Detroit Mercy.
Perhaps we should have seen this coming. Coach Mark LaCombe is in his third season, and the Titans have shown improvement each winter. They were 13-8 in 2013-14 and 16-5 last season, a finish that included a Macomb Area Conference White title.
But first-round knockouts in the MHSAA Tournament didn’t sit well with the five seniors who start for LaCombe this season.
Luke Lamoreaux, a 5-foot-9 point guard and a three-year starter, is one of four returning from last season’s lineup. He was the captain on the soccer team in the fall and is the leader of this team. Lamoreaux said the difference between last season and the team this season is experience.
“We’ve gotten stronger in the weight room,” he said. “We hit the weight room a lot.
“It’s a lot of hard work. Plus it’s a senior-led team. We played a lot of tough teams in the summer. And we played a tough nonconference schedule. We played (Macomb) Dakota. We had a 15-point lead and lost in overtime. We said if we can play with the No. 2-ranked team, we can play with anybody. We’d like another shot.
“We’ve always been a good football school. We’ve wanted to make our mark in basketball. What we’re doing now is we’re making a statement with this run.”
Stevenson isn’t a tall team. Its tallest starter is Stacy Howard at 6-2. LaCombe uses a four-guard lineup and generally subs two to three off the bench. Jahi Hinson (6-3) is one of those reserves, and he’s the lone junior in the rotation.
“We’re undersized,” LaCombe said. “The kids play harder than anyone we play. The kids that play, play at a high level.”
Three players, including Lamoreaux, average between 11 and 12 points. Mylon Weathers (6-0) and Vince Ramachi (6-1) averaged 12 points apiece, Lamoreaux 11.5. Lamoreaux has stepped up his game in the tournament. He’s averaging 15.5 in four tournament games.
“The basket looks really big to him now,” LaCombe said. “He’s getting a name for himself. He plays well on the big stage.”
Weathers is the team’s top defender and will guard the opposition’s top scoring guard. In a District Semifinal, he held Clinton Township Chippewa Valley senior Steven Lloyd to 11 points, 10 below Lloyd’s average.
Stevenson hasn’t received much publicity this season for obvious reasons. LaCombe knows a team has to earn respect, and he said that’s what his team has done. The MAC White isn’t a strong basketball division, and to prepare his team for a long run LaCombe scheduled nonleague games against Rockford, Detroit Western International, Rochester Adams, Warren DeLaSalle and Detroit Country Day. Stevenson’s four losses were to teams that won District titles.
“We weren’t quite ready last year,” he said. “Defensively they’ve executed as well as a coach could ask for. They’ve made adjustments. We trap a lot.
“The brackets were set up perfectly for us. A lot of times you set goals for the season: a league and district titles. That wouldn’t have been good enough for this group. I don’t think we’ll have a group like this come out of Stevenson for a long time.”
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Luke Lamoreaux and assistant coach Bill Szlaga share a celebratory embrace during Stevenson's Quarterfinal run. (Middle) Stacy Howard (3) prepares to signal a 3-pointer as teammate Austin Beba launches the shot. (Photos courtesy of the Sterling Heights Stevenson boys basketball program.)