• Michigan

No. 2 Carman-Ainsworth knocks off previously unbeaten, No. 9 Mt. Pleasant to three-peat as Saginaw Valley League overall champs

By: Matthew B. Mowery, February 22, 2019, 11:00 pm

FLINT TWP. — There’s a full page from a newspaper torn out, and taped to an office window just outside the Flint Carman-Ainsworth gymnasium, with one publication’s preseason list of top boys basketball teams.

Missing from that list are the words “Flint Carman-Ainsworth.”

Not missing are the checkmarks beside any teams that the Cavaliers have played — or beaten.

As motivations go, it’s not subtle.

But it’s pretty stinkin’ effective.

“That’s my office,” admitted C-A coach Jay Witham. “We thought we were a pretty high-caliber team coming into the season, and we were nowhere on it. So just kind of highlighted some things, and for these guys to walk by every day, and put a salty taste in their mouth, you know?

“I haven’t been doing a very good job of crossing them out, though …”

That’s OK. The Cavaliers have been doing fine at crossing out teams on their own.

Friday night in the Gravel Pit, the No. 2-ranked Cavs (17-2) won their 11th straight game, knocking off previously-unbeaten, No. 9 Mt. Pleasant, 56-44, to win their third straight overall Saginaw Valley League title.

“It was definitely big for us, for our seniors, the last time here, finishing off the right way. Our goal is the overall Saginaw Valley League championship, so it was definitely something we wanted to accomplish. It’s definitely hard. The SVL’s a great conference, so it’s great to see one of our goals accomplished,” said Cavaliers senior Mike Fletcher, who has started since his freshman year, winning four straight SVL South division titles, and the three overall titles.

“It’s just nice to see my teams’ hard work over the years pay off, doing something special here at Carman. I just hope that the people coming after me can keep it going.”

For the Oilers (18-1), it’s a whole new sensation.

“This is something new for them right now. They haven’t had to do this all year long. It falls back on, ‘How do the kids who’ve been around handle themselves?’ Making sure that everybody stays bought in, we stay focused, and we just move on,” Mt. Pleasant coach Dan Schell said. “I don’t care who you are, wherever you are in the state, or who you play — to win 18 straight games is not easy. You have a hiccup here, you have a hiccup there. You run into a really good team. There’s so many variables there where you can get a loss. It’s taxing. It is. You got the target on your back. You’ve got a lot of  pressure. Every day, you come in, and you feel that. Te be honest with you, now it’s over, and everyone’s 0-0. Let’s just go one game at a time, and try to make the longest run that you can.”

After the first quarter, it looked like it might be the Oilers hoisting the trophy, as they rained down 3-pointers, leading 19-14. Joe Ostrowski and Mason Wojtusik hit two each from behind the arc, while Peyton Fountain added another.

It wouldn’t last.

“They can shoot it. Obviously, we had them on film. We knew those three guards could knock it down. … What’s nice is when you have someone like Mike, you don’t have to double down on the guy, so you can kind of stay the course with your guy,” Witham said. “They did a good job of running their stuff in the first quarter, and we were on skates. We were chasing, big-time, and losing people, and they were getting wide-open looks. We kind of changed our defense a bit, and had them throwing the ball all over the place. Helped us out tremendously.”

The Cavaliers began to pick up the defense at three-quarters court, and trapped in certain spots, and certain players. It fueled a 17-0 run to end the first half, leaving the Cavs up 32-23 at the break.

“I’ll be honest with you, some of it was what they did. He came out in a little half-court trap to try to take some of the stuff away from us. We kind of fell back on our heels, got away from being aggressive, and then the 3s we did take were quick. The nice thing about this is it gives us something to work toward. We’ll go back at film and we’ll correct some mistakes that we made,” Schell said. “You hope to play them again, but the bottom line is, if you don’t win Wednesday, you don’t have a chance.”

The Cavaliers maintained the nine-point lead heading to the fourth, up by 41-32, but when the Oilers cut it back to six early in the final frame, Witham brought Mike Fletcher back in. The 6-foot-7 center was a problem for the Oilers all game, finishing with 21 points, and altering a number of shots in the lane. He’d stay in until the final seconds of the game, when he swatted a shot into the second row of the bleachers.

Signed with Michigan State to play football, the elder Fletcher brother is enjoying the last few games — however long the Cavs’ run lasts — playing his first love, basketball. And he’s trying to go out swinging, too.

“It’s definitely weird to think that I’ve only got a few games left in my basketball career, so I definitely want to give this all I’ve got. It’s my last time,” he said. “It’s probably going to be a little harder, my last basketball game, than my last football game, because I have some more football to play. So I definitely want to make this last as long as I can.”

His little brother, Dustin, added 12 points, while Jayden Nunn had nine. Wojtusik had 16 to lead Mt. Pleasant, while Joe Ostrowski had 13 and Fountain eight.