Division 2: Vikings fall to Sailors in regional semifinals

Published 7:52 am Tuesday, March 14, 2023

VICKSBURG — Grand Rapids South Christian’s size, experience and talent pulled the No. 3-ranked Sailors past Niles 72-33 Monday in a Division 2 Regional semifinal boys’ basketball battle at Vicksburg’s gym.

Niles finishes the season 15-11. South Christian (22-3) advances to Wednesday’s championship game against Hamilton (22-4), a 63-62 winner over Marshall in the other semifinal.

“South Christian has a lot of size, good shooters and talent,” said Niles Coach Myles Busby. “I’m quite confident we will be able to develop a program like theirs within a few years here. We will learn from this and be back here again soon.”

Busby said his team was well aware of the challenge it faced Monday night.

“We knew this was going to be a difficult task,” he said. “Give them [South Christian] a ton of credit. I think they have a great chance to win the state championship and I’m sure they believe the same thing. They are a very physical and disciplined team that plays with a lot of finesse. All of their kids were ready from their starters to their bench players.”

South Christian scored the first two buckets of the contest for a quick 4-0 lead. But Niles sliced its deficit to one, 4-3, with a Mike Phillips’ 3-pointer on the Vikings’ next possession.

The Sailors, however, went on to outscore the Vikings 16-4 in the remaining minutes of the first quarter to stretch its lead to 20-7 entering the second stanza.

Back-to-back buckets by senior Jayson Johnson and freshman Brayden Favors kept the Vikings’ within striking distance.

South Christian was successful in pounding the ball inside several times for either a layup or short turnaround jumper during the second quarter. The Sailors’ Jacob DeHaan scored nine of his 14 points during the period to help his team build a commanding 45-14 halftime advantage.

A 17-11 South Christian run in the third stanza put the Sailors up 62-25. Niles got four free throws from Johnson during the stanza, along with a 3-pointer from junior Anthony Brady Jr. and two baskets in the paint by Alec Lozada to highlight its offensive production during that stretch.

Niles was outscored 10-8 in the final stanza. The Vikings’ got a pair of Johnson triples and two free-throw attempts from freshman Brenden Olsen for is fourth-quarter scoring effort.

Niles finished the night shooting a chilly 10-of-45 (22.2 percent) from the field but made all eight of its free-throw attempts.

Johnson paced Niles in the scoring column with 12 points. Phillips added five and Alec Lozada and Ethan Chambliss tossed in four each. Favors and Brady scored three apiece and Olsen had two.

South Christian outrebounded Niles 27-17.

Niles was led in rebounding by Lozada and Chambliss with four each and Phillips yanked down three.

Leading the scoring effort for the Sailors, who finished 28-of-53 from the floor and 6-of-6 at the charity line, was Nate Brinks with 15. Carson Vis was also in double-digit scoring with 11 while Jake Vernaas and Cam Post chipped in eight apiece.

Vermaas grabbed nine rebounds for South Christian, while Sam Mendendorp scooped up six and DeHaan five.

Despite the loss, Busby and his Vikings ended the year on a high note by winning six straight games before falling Monday. Included in that streak was a 65-61 district finals win over Benton Harbor.

That win by Niles avenged an earlier regular-season 77-59 loss to the Tigers.

“Our kids kept fighting the whole night,” Busby said. “They never once gave up, its not in their DNA. It doesn’t take much to motivate these kids once they get into the gym. We’re really proud of these kids and sp is the Niles community as well. We try to teach these kids the core principles and values of things outside of basketball. We love this group of kids.”

Busby praised the play of several players, who helped the Vikings turn its season around over the final month.

“Mike (Phillips) was huge for us the last 10 games of the year for us,” said. “Alec was a big presence for us defensively and Jayson became that pure point guard and the kind of leader we always knew he could be.”

Seniors Johnson, Brady and Lozada played in their final game for Niles.

Busby fought back a bit of emotion as he talked about the leadership his three seniors provided to the team.

“Those three guys were really great for us and we’re really going to miss them next year,” he said. “They have helped lay the foundation of where our program is now. All three of them took that next step and are a big reason why we won a district and were playing in this game tonight.”

The future is very bright for a Niles squad that compiled a 10-4 mark for second place in the Wolverine Conference this winter.

A total of nine underclassmen will return to the varsity next season.

“We are very thankful that a lot of our young guys were able to get valuable experience this year.” Busby said. “We relied a lot of those younger kids especially. Acie (Kirtdoll) was big for us in the middle of the season when we started playing faster. Favors is a big gym rat with long arms who is a great shooter. He just needs to fill out his body and stay in the gym. Olsen is a kid we have high hopes for as well.”