By: Marty Budner, hometownlife.com
The way Brother Rice’s seasonally-dressed student section stormed the court and mobbed its beloved basketball team, you would have thought the Warriors just captured the state championship.
While the stakes weren’t quite that high, the impassioned Warrior fans were celebrating a welcome outcome Friday night over neighborhood rival Birmingham Sehaolm.
For the the first time in three years, Brother Rice defeated Seaholm, 53-46, to regain area bragging rights.
“They’ve gotten us the last two years, last year it was in our gym,” said Rice head coach Ed Shaffer, whose team is now 1-1 overall. “In both games we had leads and we let them get away. Tuesday against Ferndale (in the season opener) we had them down 12 after three and we let it get away.
“We have a semi-veteran team, some guys who have some varsity experience. What we’ve really been drilling them on is composure in those situations. And I thought that was huge tonight. We handled the ball, made our free throws and did what we needed to do defensively.
“In games like this, in this atmosphere, you gotta have your big guys make some big plays,” he said. “And we did that. ‘J. Mac’ (James MacKenzie) had a great game and Jon Jon Brantley made some free throws down the stretch and Cal (Ruprich) was big inside and Brendan Ammori got us some huge hustle rebounds. And then the guys coming off the bench and mixing, it was a total team effort and it was a lot of fun.”
Host Seaholm netted the game’s first basket on a short jumper by senior forward Carson Stachelski. However, Rice countered the next time down the court with a triple by Jon Brantley for a 3-2 lead. The Warriors scored the next five points — a trey by James MacKenzie and a lay-up by Brantley — for an 8-2 lead and never trailed.
Rice led 30-21 at halftime, but the Maples outscored the Warriors by four points in the third quarter and trailed 38-33 heading into the final eight minutes. Rice scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to go up by nine and Seaholm never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
“It was the same in our (season-opening loss) to (Catholic Central). We were down by five, six, seven at the half and then lost it in the second half,” said Seaholm head coach Mike DeGeeter, whose team is 0-2. “We are just undermanned right now. We have Brady Flynn and Ben Barton out until January, so until we get that size and athleticism back in there we’re going to have a tough time against the bigger, stronger teams.
“I thought our effort was great. We have a very young team. We have three guys out there that played in their second varsity game. We are just undermanned on the bench. We executed the heck out of our offense, but we didn’t execute so well on defense.
“It’s always a lot of fun going against Rice. Even when (the Rice student section) came into the gym I think it motivated every one and with our black out (student section) it’s always a lot of fun,” he said. “Last year was the last year that we will play at Rice’s gym, so if they don’t come back here or to the playoff site we will not play them again next year.”
The game’s three stars:
1. JAMES MACKENZIE: Rice’s junior forward led his team with 23 points — including five treys and a perfect 6-for-6 from the charity stripe — and was one of just four Warriors who scored.
Mackenzie, who guarded Seaholm’s Cooper Mixon all night, also finished with three rebounds, three steals and three assists. The third-year varsity player was Rice’s leading scorer in the season-opening loss to Ferndale.
“This was a big game for James. He knows these guys (Seaholm players), he’s from around here… all of these students know each other,” said Shaffer. “We talked about just coming in blue collar. Punch the clock. It’s 32 minutes and it’s going to be a grind, we told him he had to go to work tonight and not get caught up in all the hype.
“At the end of the day, let the scoreboard do the talking,” he said. “And that’s what happened. He’s had two games in a row now where he’s played really well.”
2. COOPER MIXON: Seaholm’s senior guard was the game’s high scorer with 24 points which included seven two-point baskets, one trey and was 7-of-9 from the charity stripe.
Mixon, the sixth man last year, mustered eight points in the third-quarter, including back-to-back baskets after stealing the ball while playing aggressive defense at the top of the key. He ended the first steal with a routine lay-up, but slammed home a thunderous dunk on the second one which got the Maple Forest cheering section really fired up.
“Cooper is a top player. He’s going to be a Division 1 player,” said DeGeeter. “They finally tripled teamed him at the end of the second half and the guys who were getting the ball off the triple team couldn’t make any shots. He’s a great player.”
Seaholm’s two next highest scorers were seniors Aidan Kowalski and Zach Ziegler with eight points each. Kowalski added five rebounds.
3. JON BRANTLEY: Only a sophomore, Brantley finished with 20 points — 10 in each half. Most importantly, Brantley made eight of 10 free throws, including three in one-and-one situations down the stretch when the Maples were fouling to get the ball back.
“I think Jon’s a little undersung as a sophomore. I don’t think a lot of people at the high school level know who he is, but the AAU guys know who he is,” said Shaffer. “He kind of came into his own. He had a rough night (against Ferndale), but today he trusted his teammates.
“The one thing I keep telling him is you’ve got to believe that your teammates believe in you, and you can give the ball up and you’re going to get it back and we all know you can do what you just did,” he said. “And then down the stretch, a sophomore in that environment making those free throws the way he did, he was huge for us.”