By: Daniel Stickradt
BOYS BASKETBALL: Clarkston finally reaches the summit with first Class A state championship
BY DAN STICKRADT
EAST LANSING — From now on, March 25 will have a new meaning in and around the community of Clarkston.
That would be the day the Clarkston finally earned its long-anticipated place in the spotlight of Michigan’s prep basketball lore.
The third-ranked Wolves reached the summit by defeating top-ranked and previously-unbeaten Grand Rapids Christian, 75-69, in the Class A state finals at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center in front of near-packed house.
It was the first-ever appearance in the state title game for Clarkston. The Wolves lost in the state semifinals in both 1980 and 2009 and were knocked out in the state quarterfinals nine times — all within the past 22 years.
“To put this all into words…I really can’t,” admitted veteran Clarkston coach Dan Fife, who now has 677 career wins over 36 seasons. “I really didn't think that (playing in the state finals) would ever come, let alone winning here. With all of those quarterfinals losses, buzzer beaters — years where we came so close but couldn't get here — this is really indescribable.”
Future MSU point guard Foster Loyer impressed on his future home floor, scoring 29 points with five rebounds and four assists — he scored 32 in the semifinals the day before — as Clarkston only trailed early in the first quarter. The junior three-time unanimous Associates Press All-State First Team selection was kept off the scoreboard for the first four minutes before heating up.
“This has been our goal all season. To finally win the state championship for the people of Clarkston, especially Coach Fife — it’s incredible,” smiled Loyer.
Clarkston won its postseason games by an average of 32.9 points a game — and didn’t have a contest of less than 20 points until the finals. The Wolves countered during the whole eight-game state tournament with a pick-your-poison approach, landing four players in double figures in the finals. wherever — they always
“Whenever these guys get together, not just in basketball, but wherever they always (huddle) together and say ‘family,’” said Fife. “They are such a close group and it shows out on the court. They put the team first.”
Sophomore Taylor Currie, a 6-foot-9 transfer, more than held his own against Grand Rapids Christian’s front line with 16 points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots. Junior guard CJ Robinson added 14 points and Wisconsin-Milwaukee signee Dylan Anderson chipped in with 12 points for the Wolves (27-1).
Clarkston played its best basketball at the end of the season, finishing with an 11-game win streak following a late February home loss to Southfield A&T.
“I think so. In the tournament, I think we’ve really come together, doing what it takes to win,” said Alderson, who started two years for Clarkston after moving in from Davison.
Clarkston trailed only once at 2-0 and opened up a 20-12 lead after the first quarter, closing the frame with a 14-6 run.
The Wolves led 34-29 at the half when Robinson’s off-balance putback from 10 feet away fell through the hoop at the buzzer.
Clarkston, which led 55-48 at the end of the third quarter, saw its lead grow to as many as 13 points (67-54) in the fourth period following two free throws by Loyer.
The Wolves finished 12-of-15 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, including 9-of-12 inside the final 1:41 of the contest, in securing the first state crown.
“We scored 69 points, so offensively, we were fine,” said Grand Christian coach Mark Warners. “The problem is that we gave up 75. The credit goes to Clarkston, because we just didn’t have an answer consistently. We would get a good defensive possession and we would come down and not have a good possession or miss a shot, and then they would come down and make a shot.
“Offensively, I thought we were fine,” continued Warners. “Defensively, we needed a few more stops. I thought we were right there, but we couldn’t get it done.”
Michigan State-bound Xavier Tillman, a 6-8 forward, bowed out with 25 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals to lead Grand Rapids Christian. Duane Washington followed with 16 points, Setrick Miller Jr. had 11 points and Oakland University-bound James Beck II had eight points and six rebounds for the Eagles.