By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A team that appeared in last season’s Class D championship game will be back at the Breslin Center this weekend – but not three-time reigning champion Powers North Central, which was eliminated in a District Semifinal earlier this month.
Instead, 2017 runner-up Buckley will return with nearly an identical cast to the one that lost only one game a season ago – in the Final. Back as well is Southfield Christian, an annual power which put a huge scare into North Central – the Jets beat the Eagles on a buzzer-beater in last year’s Semifinal.
But to play for a championship, those two repeat contenders will face tough challenges. Southfield Christian takes on another Upper Peninsula power in Dollar Bay, while Buckley faces Hillsdale Academy and its formidable frontcourt.
Class D Semifinals – Thursday
Dollar Bay (26-0) vs. Southfield Christian (21-4), 5:30 p.m.
Hillsdale Academy (24-2) vs. Buckley (20-5), 7:30 p.m.
Class D Final – Saturday, 10 a.m.
Tickets cost $10 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session (Class D and Class A). All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a pay-per-view basis. The Class D, A and C championship games will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit, while the Class B Final will be shown on Fox Sports Detroit on a delayed basis at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. All four championship games will be streamed live on FoxSportsDetroit.com and the FOX Sports Go! app. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.
Below is a glance at all four semifinalists. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals.)
Record/rank: 20-5, No. 8
League finish: Tied for first in Northwest Conference
Coach: Blair Moss, fifth season (73-24)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2017.
Best wins: 67-50 over No. 3 (tie) Hillman in Quarterfinal, 79-34 and 68-40 over honorable mention Onekama, 73-59 and 68-51 over Class C No. 5 Maple City Glen Lake, 62-60 over Class C honorable mention Manton.
Players to watch: Austin Harris, 6-3 sr. F (17 ppg, 4.8 apg); Denver Cade, 6-3 sr. F (16.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.1 apg); Joey Weber, 5-11 sr. G (14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 3.0 spg).
Outlook: A trio of 1,000-point career scorers (listed above) have Buckley back at Breslin after they led the Bears to their first Semifinal and championship game run a year ago. In fact, senior forward Brock Beeman and junior forward Ridge Beeman fill out a starting lineup identical to the one that took the floor against Powers North Central in last year’s Final. Buckley started 3-3 this winter against a loaded schedule and shared the Northwest Conference title with Glen Lake and No. 6 Frankfort. During the postseason, Hillman is the only opponent that has come closer than 20 points of catching the Bears.
Record/rank: 26-0, No. 2
League finish: First in Copper Mountain Conference Copper Country
Coach: Jesse Kentala, 11th season (85-132)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 74-68 over honorable mention Cedarville in Quarterfinal, 63-60 over No. 10 Rapid River in Regional Semifinal, 51-42 over No. 5 Ewen-Trout Creek.
Players to watch: Devin Schmitz, 6-0 sr. G; Jaden Janke, 6-5 sr. C. (Statistics not submitted).
Outlook: Dollar Bay has made quite a march to emerge as a possible heir apparent after North Central’s three straight Class D titles coming down from the Upper Peninsula. This will be the Blue Bolts’ first trip to the Semifinals after they played in their first Quarterfinal since 1979. Only 10-10 two seasons ago, Dollar Bay improved to 19-5 last year before falling to North Central by two points in a Regional Semifinal. Schmitz is considered arguably the top player in program history and broke the career scoring record this winter.
Record/rank: 24-2, No. 9
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association East
Coach: Tim Wells, fourth season (72-24)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 56-49 over honorable mention Adrian Lenawee Christian in Regional Final, 56-46 over No. 3 (tie) Bellevue, 58-42 (District Final), 60-39 and 57-40 over Camden-Frontier.
Players to watch: Peter Kalthoff, 6-7 sr. C (21.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.7 bpg); Michael Craig, 5-11 sr. G (13 ppg, 2.6 apg).
Outlook: Hillsdale Academy’s first trip to the Quarterfinals and now Semifinals has included the win over Lenawee Christian – to avenge one of the Colts’ two losses – and no other game closer than 16 points. Their only other defeat this winter came to neighbor Hillsdale High, a Class B school. Kalthoff is a force, making 67 percent of his field goals tries, but six players have scored at least 13 points in a game this season. Senior forward Nolan Sullivan and sophomore forward Lukas Tharp both add about eight points per game.
Record/rank: 21-4, No. 1
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Coach: Josh Baker, seventh season (132-23)
Championship history: Class D champions 2014, 2013 and 2012.
Best wins: 88-53 over Flint International Academy in Quarterfinal, 79-50 (Regional Semifinal), 72-22 and 56-39 over honorable mention Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 68-45 over Class B No. 4 River Rouge, 65-60 over Detroit Martin Luther King.
Players to watch: Bryce Washington, 6-3 jr. G (21.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg); Harlond Beverly, 6-4 jr. G (16 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.4 apg).
Outlook: Southfield Christian’s return to the Semifinals last season after a two-year hiatus ended with a one-point overtime loss to eventual champion North Central. The Eagles’ return three starters from that game – Washington, Beverly and junior guard Caleb Hunter (13.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.4 spg, 57 3-pointers.). Again playing a schedule loaded with larger schools, Southfield Christian lost this winter only to Class A West Bloomfield, Class B Detroit Country Day and Class C Detroit Edison and Detroit Pershing; all but West Bloomfield won at least District titles this month.
PHOTO: Buckley’s Joey Weber brings the ball upcourt during last season’s Class D championship game at the Breslin Center.