EAST LANSING – When the buzzer sounded and long after subs filled the floor in Thursday’s first Class C Semifinal, Flint Beecher junior Monte Morris quietly pointed to the Breslin Center rafters, symbolically signing No. 1.
Beecher needs just one more win to finish in that top spot for the first time since 1987.
This was the Buccaneers’ third-straight Semifinal appearance. The first two ended in disappointments.
But they climbed step closer to forgetting those with a 65-45 win over reigning champion Schoolcraft to earn a first championship game berth since 2008.
“Not too many teams get this opportunity we have right here. It’s just something special,” Beecher senior Antuan Burks said. “Monte’s a junior and might not get to go through this his senior year. We just want to go out physical, play hard, and bring that championship back home.”
The Bucs will face Traverse City St. Francis in Saturday’s noon Final.
Burks and Beecher (27-0) haven’t lost since last season’s Semifinal against McBain. Saturday’s Final will be Beecher’s fourth in 13 seasons. Two of those three championship game losses during the run were by just three points apiece.
“All year long, I kept reminding these guys that the number one ranking means nothing,” Beecher coach Mike Williams said. “Schoolcraft had what we wanted, which was a state championship. I keep reminding our kids, we were ranked in the top two all last year. And that meant nothing. These kids have felt and dealt with disappointment.”
By the end of Thursday’s first quarter, they had to feel confident that this season’s good vibes would last at least two more days.
Taking advantage of Schoolcraft turnovers – and turning them into quick-strike points – Beecher rolled to a 12-2 run to finish the first quarter up 10 points. The Bucs extended that advantage to 36-19 by halftime, and for the game scored 29 points off Schoolcraft’s 23 turnovers.
“They’re quicker, and it’s hard for us to have that happen in practice to prepare for that,” Schoolcraft senior all-stater Luke Ryskamp said.
It also didn’t hurt that Beecher shot 49 percent from the floor. Burks made 67 percent of his shots and finished with a game-high 24 points. Morris, this season’s Associated Press Class C Player of the Year for the second straight, added 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
“Last year we did get off to a quick start (too), but this year we showed the maturity and wherewithal to sustain that lead and build on it,” Williams said. “We had miscues. We had mistakes. But we were able to overcome them.”
Ryskamp finished with 22 points and six rebounds. He was one of only two starters back from last season’s team – making it more impressive that the Eagles finished 22-5 and returned to East Lansing.
Senior Bryan Jones, the other returning starter, had seven points and a game-high nine rebounds in his final high school game.
“We’re an entirely different team this year,” Schoolcraft coach Randy Small said. “We’re not the prettiest team. We had to have a lot of guys do the dirty work, the behind-the-scenes stuff, the scratching, clawing, digging kind of stuff. The kids have done that real well.
“Last year we were probably a little more fun to watch. … But I’m proud of my guys for getting back here.”
PHOTO: Beecher's Monte Morris attempts a shot in Thursday's Semifinal win. He finished with 18 points. (Photo courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.)