By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Buckley’s cart may have come before the horse earlier this season.
The horse arrived Thursday night at the Breslin Center.
Bears coach Blair Moss referred to the old saying to describe how his team – returning almost entirely intact from last year’s Class D runner-up run – got rolling a little slowly this winter.
But Buckley has found its stride – and hit it especially right with about seven minutes to play in Thursday’s 65-55 Semifinal win over Hillsdale Academy.
The Bears outscored the Colts 17-6 to pull away after trailing by 12 early in the third quarter.
“Last postseason, when we lost to Powers North (Central), I said we’d be back here,” said Buckley senior Austin Harris, noting the 78-69 defeat against the Jets in the 2017 championship game. “And I believed in my team and I knew. We got in the gym and worked really, really hard. I think our success in this, hard work really paid off. We believe in ourselves.”
Buckley (21-5) will face Southfield Christian in Saturday’s 10 a.m. championship game.
The Bears’ entire starting five returned this season from the team that fell just one win short of a first MHSAA boys basketball championship a year ago.
They started this season 3-3 – although those losses were to Kalamazoo Hackett, McBain and Frankfort, which all ended up winning at least 18 games.
“I think I put the cart before the horse. We knew where our goal was at, but we forgot we had 20 games in between,” Moss said. “I saw flashes of us, and I tried to pinpoint what we were doing and not doing right. So I told them before the tournament started, let’s not worry about records, let’s not worry about who’s scoring, let’s just play for each other.”
Hillsdale Academy (19-7), making its first trip to the Semifinals after winning its first Regional title last week, got behind by eight points early in the second quarter. But the Colts, following the lead of 6-foot-7 senior Peter Kalthoff, launched a 15-3 run over the final two minutes of the first half and first two of the second to take a 43-31 lead. Kalthoff had six of his team-high 17 points during that stretch.
Buckley’s veteran lineup began chipping away. Harris had eight points including two 3-pointers, and the Bears hit four 3-pointers total over the final six minutes of the third quarter to take back a one-point lead.
Harris started the closing run with another 3-pointer, and senior Joey Weber had seven of his 15 points over the final 4:25 of the game.
Weber also had nine rebounds, four assists and four steals, and senior forwards Denver Cade and Brock Beeman both added 11 points – Cade also dishing four assists.
Kalthoff added 11 rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots to go with his 17 points, and senior guard Michael Craig added 14 points and five assists.
“I’m proud of my guys and the way they battled, not just tonight, but in the other 27-some other games to get to this point,” Hillsdale Academy coach Tim Wells said. “Looking at some of the stats in preparation for tonight, these guys (four-year seniors Kalthoff, Craig and Nolan Sullivan) have won 74 games in four years – that’s fantastic. So by the time we got to now, we started talking about this moment, this is your reward.”
“As much as it stings to lose this game, look where we got to play. I know it’s bigger than that, (but) it was pretty incredible,” Sullivan added. “I knew we could do it. But to actually do it is something that’s absolutely incredible.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Buckley’s Joey Weber (5) and Hillsdale Academy’s Nolan Sullivan work for a loose ball during their teams’ Class D Semifinal. (Middle) Hillsdale Academy’s Peter Kalthoff takes a step toward the basket Thursday.