St. Mary’s, De La Salle, CC still in chase for boys basketball championship

St. Mary’s Mr. Basketball nominee Kareem Rozier pauses for a fan’s photo request holding the spoils of the Eaglets’ regional victory over Hamtramck. Rozier had dribbled the ball for three minutes in a stall strategy that changed the momentum of the game in his team’s favor. (Photo courtesy of Paul Mellerowicz)

DETROIT — The Catholic High School League’s Central Division captured the attention of the state high school basketball scene all winter long with its intense intra-league mayhem.

Now the league is making its presence felt in the final week of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s basketball playoffs.

Three Central Division squads will be among the eight teams chasing the dream of a Division 1 state championship. They all will be playing Tuesday, March 22, in the quarterfinals. One of them will see its quest end.

No. 1-ranked Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (20-4) will tip off against Warren De La Salle (17-7) at 5:30 p.m. at the University of Detroit Mercy's Calihan Hall. The Eaglets beat the Pilots twice during the regular season, once by two points in double overtime and the other time by 13 points.

Novi Detroit Catholic Central (16-8) will face the defending Division 1 champ, Grand Blanc (19-5), at 7 p.m. at Heritage High School in Saginaw.

The other two Central teams faced early termination. University of Detroit Jesuit (16-6) was ousted by Hamtramck in a regional semi-final game, 61-48. St. Mary’s sent Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (15-7), who had beat the Eaglets twice during the season, to the sidelines in a district finale, 63-40.

The winners move on to Michigan State University’s Breslin Center for the semi-finals on Friday, March 25, and the championship match the next day.

Here’s a look back at how the Eaglets, Pilots and Shamrocks have survived until now in the state playoffs:

The 3-minute dribbler — St. Mary’s is on an eight-game victory streak that includes the CHSL championship, a last-second 50-49 win over Detroit Public Schools champ Martin Luther King in the Operation Friendship contest, and MHSAA district (vs. Brother Rice) and regional (vs. Hamtramck, 83-72) trophies.

However, there was a moment when the Eaglets were on the verge of elimination.

In the regional semi-final, St. Mary’s had a 27-17 halftime lead over North Farmington. It was reduced to 41-36 with six minutes to play in the fourth quarter.

Coach Todd Covert ordered a stall. For three minutes, senior point guard and Mr. Basketball nominee Kareem Rozier calmly dribbled the ball near half court. North Farmington didn’t challenge the strategy and remained in its zone defense.

The momentum shifted to the Eaglets’ side. In the final 45 seconds, senior Jack Crighton sank a pair of free throws and Rozier three for a 46-42 win.

This is the second year in a row that St. Mary’s reached the quarterfinals. They lost in 2021 to Grand Blanc.

Don’t touch the trophy — If De La Salle reaches the semi-finals for the second year in a row, a superstitious person might say it's because the players are refraining from touching the trophies they’ve won so far.

When the Pilots beat Troy 57-28 for the district title, the players asked coach Gjon Djokaj whether his six-year-old son Andrew could handle the trophy to avoid "jinxing" their chances of making a return trip to the Breslin Center.

The Pilots defeated Roseville, 76-62, and Macomb Dakota, 79-68, for the regional trophy. Júnior Tristan Nichols scored a game-high 31 points against Roseville and another junior, Michael Salaka, netted 26 points against Dakota.

You can bet if the Pilots win the state championship trophy, they’ll never let go.

Finally, after 13 years — The Shamrocks turned on its defense down the stretch of a hard-fought 52-46 victory over Clarkston for its first regional title since 2009. “We wanted it so bad, not only for our team but for the teams before us,” senior co-captain Cooper Craggs said.

Senior Kam Mayes had a game-high 23 points and sophomore TJ Nadeau added 13.

Mayes scored 16 in the 69-36 rollover of Hartland in the regional semifinal. Catholic Central got past Walled Lake Northern, 44-34, to win the district.

The Shamrocks have one state basketball championship in their history, in 1976 under coach Bernie Holowicki against Saginaw.

Loyola season ends via a forfeit

Detroit Loyola’s basketball season ended on a sour note when the Bulldogs last three games had to be forfeited because the team used an ineligible player.

The games affected were the 73-37 win over Detroit Central for the district title, a 59-43 defeat of Madison Heights Bishop Foley in a regional semi-final game, and the regional title game they would have played against New Haven.

Loyola will also have to return the trophy and medals awarded for the district championship. Loyola had an overall 17-7 record that included a 6-0 record to win the CHSL Double A Division.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected].


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