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No. 7 Grand Blanc rolls past previously unbeaten, No. 12 Mt. Pleasant to win first-ever SVL championship

By: MATTHEW B. MOWERY, February 28, 2020, 11:06 pm

AUBURN — In the scheme of things, it wasn’t the lone bucket that buried the previously unbeaten Mt. Pleasant Oilers — but it might have been the backbreaker.

Down by double digits after being outscored 30-12 by Grand Blanc in the second quarter of the Saginaw Valley League title game at Bay City Western, the Oilers used a third-quarter rally to whittle that deficit back to five points, and had a chance to get it within a single possession by holding for the last shot of the period.

Instead, sophomore phenom Ty Rodgers grabbed the defensive rebound on the errant shot, and — almost without looking — lobbed the ball downcourt for a streaking R.J. Taylor, who beat the buzzer with a lay-in.

The No. 12-ranked Oilers (17-1, 9-0 SVL Red) never got it closer than seven the rest of the way, as the No. 7 Bobcats (16-3, 8-0 SVL Blue) rolled to a 74-60 win, and their first-ever SVL title.

“Man, I know every time I get a rebound, R.J. is gone. I kind of seen him a little bit, but I just tossed it, and I know he’ll get it, because nobody’s faster than R.J. … I’ve never played with a guard faster than him. He’s so fast,” Rodgers said of his freshman teammate. “That was a huge bucket. I’m just thankful I was able to get the board, and outlet it to R.J.”

The twosome first developed their rapport when they were opponents in middle school — Rodgers in Saginaw and Taylor in Midland. 

“Me and R.J. played a lot through middle school, so it was easy for us to have chemistry. We practiced a lot in the summer, just me and him, doing a lot of one-on-one workouts. We basically came in like brothers. We know each others’ games. It was easy coming in with him,” said Rodgers, whose uncle, former NBA star Jason Richardson, was a schoolboy legend at Saginaw Arthur Hill. “We played against each other, and then after that game, we just got each other’s contact information, and we’ve just been working out since then. I believe that was eighth grade.”

Grand Blanc coach Mike Thomas as seen the bond between the two grow since they started the season.

“Their relationship is great. They have a great feel for each other, know where the other one is. It took some time to grow, but they’re starting to gel together,” the coach said. “RJ isn’t normal, is he? He isn’t a normal freshman. But I don’t care where RJ goes, he’s a natural-born leader, he’s a natural player. He’s going to fit in on any team, and he’s going to get any team to win.”

The twosome combined for 17 of Grand Blanc’s 30 points in the second quarter, as the Bobcats took a 15-12 lead after one, and blew it open, using a 20-4 run to lead 42-29 at the half. Mt. Pleasant turned the tables in the third, outscoring Grand Blanc 18-10 to cut the deficit back to just two possessions.

Then Rodgers corralled the critical defensive rebound just before the buzzer, and got it upcourt to Taylor.

“They get a layup on the other end, because we don’t get back — we go a little early, and don’t get back, and all of a sudden, they get a layup, and that’s like a backbreaker,” Oilers coach Dan Schell said. “All of sudden you go from (possibly) a two- or three-point game, and now it’s seven. It’s just like a kick in the gut.”

It was a bit of a relief for Thomas.

“It was huge. We were struggling to score a little bit in the third quarter, and just kind of needed a basket to get us over the hump a little bit. But like I told my guys, we’re going to have times where we can’t score — just simply because the shot is off, or something like that — but our defense, our defense needs to be there. I don’t think anybody works on defense like we do. Our guys kind of get tired of it, but I think they understand what we’re doing, how they do it,” Thomas said. “With the talent that we have, we have a number of different options to score, scoring shouldn’t be a problem, but if we can bring that effort on the defensive end, every single night, we’ll have a chance of winning every single night.”

The Bobcats knew they needed to stop Mt. Pleasant’s high scoring guards, Mason Wojtusik and Jo Ostrowsky, if they were going to be effective in the title game. 

“We spent maybe three or four days on film, just watching them. Just making sure they don’t have a great night against us,” Rodgers said. “That was one of the key points we talked about in practice was just staying physical, because they’ve got some big guys.”

The presence of the Oilers’ big twosome inside — 6-foot-3, 270-pound Tyler Huenemann (an all-state defensive end, bound for Harvard) and 6-4, 250-pound Josh Schell — was also worrisome.

“We watched it on tape. And we just kind of showed footage of No. 42 (Huenemann) and 52 (Schell), and how physical they are. You can’t just go stand next to these guys, you gotta box them out, you’ve gotta hold them and you gotta keep going,” Thomas said. “I told them, ‘Hey, I don’t care if you don’t get it, just as long as they don’t get it.’ But hey, a lot of times they got it.”

Jack Payton hit three triples for nine points for Mt. Pleasant, while Wojtusik and Ostrowsky had 10 each to lead the Oilers.

Mark Miller led alls scorers with 18 for Grand Blanc, Taylor had 15, Nate Brown 14, Rodgers 13 and Kevin Rice nine.

The league title is Grand Blanc’s first in the Saginaw Valley League.

“Man, it feels great, bringing history to the school. Amazing,” Rodgers said.

For the Oilers, it’s a second straight loss in the SVL title game, and a second straight year where a perfect season came to an end at the hands of the SVL’s southern division champ. Last year, the Oilers lost, 56-44, to Flint Carman-Ainsworth in the championship game. 

“I mean, give them credit, that’s a really good team — we just didn’t play very well. I can go down the line, he didn’t play well, he did — but we just didn’t play very well. Not a very good night to do it, because you don’t beat a good team when you play like that. They bury you when you do that,” Dan Schell said. “You take bad shots, they bury you. You give up an offensive rebound, they bury you. Everything’s magnified with as quality a team as they are. You’ve gotta do everything right. It is what it is. we all want to win, but by the same token, I’d rather have it now than later in the year.”

The Oilers take on Grand Ledge and Gaylord before taking on the same Midland team that knocked them out of districts a year ago in an upset. 

The Bobcats finish the regular season with a showdown with top-ranked Flint Beecher, in a game to be held at Flint’s Dort Federal Event Center.

“I don’t think there’s any situation our team is afraid of. We’ve played in some big games, tough teams, top teams, No. 1 teams. A mixture of everything. Different styles. We’re just ready to play,” Thomas said. “I think this is going to be very fun for … all of the surrounding areas, to have a historic day at Dort Federal on March 3.”