Article and photos courtesy of MIPrepzone
By Drew Ellis
LAKE ORION >> Despite having almost a completely new roster, the Clarkston boys basketball team came into the 2018-19 postseason looking like a contender to win a third consecutive state championship. Riding a 17-game win streak, the second-ranked Wolves entered a competitive Division 1 district at Lake Orion in a field that included the OAA Red, White and Blue champions along with the second-place team in the Red.
On Monday, the Red champs (Clarkston) faced off with Rochester Adams, the OAA White champs. Not intimidated by the Wolves championship mystique, the Highlanders led most of the contest and ultimately held off a late Clarkston rally to pick up a 38-37 victory and stun the two-time champs.
“Our district is pretty tough. It’s one of the toughest districts we’ve had in a long time, so we knew going in that we were going to have to play well all three nights (to win),” Clarkston coach Tim Wasilk said.
“There is really not much I could say to these guys to make them feel better right now. I told them I am proud of the way they played this year. We had a great season. We had a 17-game win streak and it just wasn’t our night. Adams out played us and it was their night. We didn’t make the big plays, didn’t make the big shots. It’s a credit to Adams.”
The win for Adams adds to an impressive two-year turnaround for Brad Crighton and his squad. In the 2016-17 season, Adams went winless in Crighton’s first year with the program. This season, the Highlanders put up a 17-3 record and won the OAA White. Now, they have ended the championship run of Clarkston.
“It’s been phenomenal. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Crighton said of the turnaround. “I was proud of that group that I had two years ago, too. They battled every game for me. It shows the character of the team I have and they are ready to play anyone who is in front of us.”
Monday’s district game was a defensive battle as Adams came out and set a physical tone against the Wolves and points were difficult to come by. The two teams were tied 7-7 after one and Adams was able to break the tie and take an 18-14 halftime lead thanks to a 3-pointer from freshman Gunner Walters in the closing minute of the half.
“I knew the first quarter was going to be crucial for us,” Crighton said. “I thought we could play with (Clarkston), but I wanted to make sure that they believed it too. Once we hung in there and made a few baskets, they believed and they were very confident.”
Adams carried a 28-23 lead into the fourth quarter, but Clarkston quickly erased that deficit when Matt Nicholson scored a basket 45 seconds in and Fletcher Loyer added a 3-pointer on the next possession.
Not to be rattled, Adams wouldn’t let Clarkston ever get the lead. George Gurraj broke the tie with 5:41 to play, putting Adams up 30-28. Gurraj would later come up with a big block to keep the Highlanders ahead, 31-28, and he would then get an easy lay-in moments later on an assist from Ethan Emerzian to make it 33-28 with 2:05 to play.
Clarkston made a late surge, scoring five points in 10 seconds. Nicholson hit a pair of free throws then picked up a steal that led to a 3-pointer from Desmond Mills-Bradley, putting the score at 35-32 with 1:25 to play.
Mills-Bradley would cut the lead to one, 35-34, with 47 seconds left on a lay-in, but Adams answered with a basket from Prieskorn that also drew a foul. After hitting the free-throw, the Highlanders led 38-34.
Clarkston’s next possession saw the Wolves eat up about 20 seconds before being able to find a shot. Senior Jake Jensen took an off-balanced 3-point attempt that went in with 11 seconds to play, make the score 38-37.
The Wolves would send Walters to the free-throw line with 9.3 remaining. Walters missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving Clarkston a chance for the win. Loyer got off a long 3-point attempt, but the shot didn’t go down and gave Adams the upset victory.
Emerzian finished with 10 points for Adams while Jake Schuler scored nine and Walters had eight.
Adams will now face district host, Lake Orion, in Wednesday’s district semifinal at 7 p.m. Oxford and Waterford Kettering will meet in the other semifinal.
“In our first two games, we lost to Lake Orion and Oxford, so the boys want a chance to play them,” Crighton said. “You can hear them, they are excited, but tomorrow we have to get back, ready to win.”
Jensen and Keegan Wasilk each scored eight to lead the Wolves while Loyer finished with nine and Nicholson had six. Clarkston ends the year with a 17-3 record, but still put together another OAA Red title and a 17-game win streak following an 0-2 start to the season.
“I was definitely proud of the kids this year with all the new players and new starters we had this year, fresh faces in the lineup, for our kids to stick together and play so well on both ends of the floor and have great team chemistry, it’s a credit to the guys,” Wasilk said of his team. “It’s been a fun year. I was proud to coach them. Obviously we don’t want to go out like this, but it was a fun year.”