D2 FINALS: Grand Rapids Catholic Central finishes what 2018 team started, beating Pennfield to win first title
EAST LANSING — Nobody was pulling harder for the 2021 version of the Grand Rapids Catholic Central squad than the members of the 2018 team that had finished up in the same place, only to suffer a heartbreaking loss.
This year’s team just wanted to finish what that team started.
The Cougars went wire-to-wire unbeaten, knocking off one of the postseason’s Cinderella stories, Battle Creek Pennfield, 77-54, in Saturday’s Division 2 championship game, bringing home the first boys basketball title in school history.
“This was our goal from the start, and it feels great to be able to finish it the way we wanted to,” said sophomore Kaden Brown, who led all scorers with 25.
The Cougars (20-0) had plenty of encouragement from the 2018 squad to fuel that fire.
“To look up in the stands, and see Marcus Bingham (Jr.) sitting in the front row of the stands — we tried to sneak him behind our bench, but you can’t really miss a 6(-foot-)11 and a half kid,” Catholic Central coach T.J. Meerman said of the current Michigan State forward. “He was on that team a couple of years ago that lost in that heartbreaking loss to that great team from Benton Harbor. He and Jacob Polakovich, Austin Braun — a lot of guys from that team — sent us a lot of messages in the last couple of days about finishing what they started. So that was our mission tonight.”
There were other motivations, too.
“We have a pretty dominant football team, so it’s good to get one for basketball,” junior Jack Karasinski said. “It’s amazing. To see Marcus, and how it ended for him, we just wanted to get it done for our guys. Gotta give a lot of praise to coach, man. Sometimes, I don’t think he sleeps. Walks in with an energy drink every day. He wanted this one bad, so I’m glad we got it done for him.”
Pennfield (21-3) had ripped off 11 straight wins after a pair of midseason losses, turning this year’s squad into the most successful in school history.
And the Panthers were neck-and-neck with Catholic Central through the first half, with the game tied 13-13 after one quarter, and 31-31 at the break.
A three-minute span in the third quarter made all the difference, as Catholic Central ripped off a 14-2 run to take control of the game. The Cougars would only lead by fewer than 11 points once the rest of the way, pushing the lead as high as 25 points in the fourth.
With Pennfield up by one, 34-31, the Cougars started the run at the 6:02 mark of the third, with two free throws by Brown, and it would ned at the 3:07 mark, with two free throws by Gabe Quillan.
“That’s been our motto all year: defend, rebound and run. And that took over in the second half,” Meerman said. “Our guys put a lot of work into their bodies and their conditioning and I think we just play with a lot of energy. We wear on teams.”
Catholic Central took a 54-41 lead into the fourth, and never looked back.
Four Cougars scored in double figures, led by Brown, with Jorden and Durral Brooks both chipping in 10, and Karasinski 18, despite playing 10 minutes less because of foul trouble. Luke Davis led Pennfield with 17, while Ryne Peterson had 11.