BRESLIN BOUND: Bobcats advance to semifinals with win over Pirates

Published 10:02 am Wednesday, March 22, 2023

PORTAGE — The Bobcats are Breslin bound.

The Brandywine boys basketball team made history Tuesday night as it squared off against Pewamo-Westphalia in the Division 3 state quarterfinals at Portage High School.

In what many will view as a classic, the No. 9-ranked Bobcats defeated the Pirates 71-62 to advance to Thursday’s semifinal contest against No. 8-ranked Traverse City St. Francis at the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Tipoff is scheduled for approximately 2 p.m. The winner advances to the Division 3 championship game at the Breslin Center Saturday afternoon against the winner of No. 3-ranked Flint Beecher and Ecorse. Beecher has reached the semifinals for the third consecutive season. The Bucs defeated Iron Mountain for the 2021 state championship.

Brandywine (25-2), which has now won nine straight games, came out on fire for the second consecutive game. The Bobcats, whose only two losses are to Division 2 state powerhouse Benton Harbor, hit four 3-pointers in the opening eight minutes, two each by freshman Nylen Goins and junior Bryon Linley. That almost wasn’t enough to take the lead after the first eight minutes of the contest as the Pirates (19-7) hit five 3-pointers, including four by freshman Grady Eklund, who finished with eight triples and a game-high 30 points.

The game would remain close throughout, but late surges at the end of each quarter allowed the Bobcats to lead at each break.

Brandywine took a 21-19 advantage into the second quarter and led 36-32 at the halftime break.

“We got up nine in that first quarter, but they got right back in it,” said Brandywine Coach Nathan Knapp. “They have some great shooters. Man, they are just fundamentally sound. They are a tough team, and that is what you face this time of year.”

Pewamo-Westphalia started the second quarter by scoring the first four points to briefly lead 23-21. The Bobcats used a 6-2 run at the end of the quarter to regain control at the break.

The Pirates got off to a quick start in the third quarter and were able to tie the score at 42-42. Brandywine responded again, turning to its defense to produce turnovers and some easy baskets.

Jaremiah Palmer’s five quick points off a 3-pointer and a basket off a steal gave the Bobcats a 52-48 lead heading into the final quarter.

“Our kids are resilient, aren’t they? They step up to every challenge we give them,” Knapp said. “They work hard even when things aren’t going their way. We never panicked when things got tough. We just kind of kept going. They don’t get rattled.”

Pewamo-Westphalia could never reclaim the lead as Brandywine’s defense forced the Pirates to use chunks of the clock at the offensive end. The Bobcats, on offense, continued to take advantage of Pewamo-Westphalia mistakes and their own patience to stay in front of the Pirates.

It was probably fitting that a 3-pointer would seal the win for the Bobcats since their long-distance shooting got them off to a good start. Linley’s 3-pointer with 1:57 remaining put Brandywine ahead for good, 65-62.

Goins led the Bobcats with 19 points, while Linley finished with 15 points, Jaremiah Palmer 14, Michael Palmer 11 and Jamier Palmer 10 points.

The Pirates only had one other player in double figures Tuesday night as Jamison Eklund, Grady’s brother, finished with 23 points.

Knapp admitted it has been hard for the Bobcats to practice because they give so much during games that the legs are heavy at times.

“We have had six days to get ready for them [Pewamo],” he said. “I had to be so light on them because of how hard they play during games. It has taken a toll on their bodies. But I told them, “we have one more week left. Just one more week.’ They are giving me everything they have.”

Brandywine will try to build on its record-setting 25 victories against St. Francis Thursday. The Bobcats continue their trip to uncharted territory, hoping that with one day to prepare before getting back on the court, there is little time to think about the aches, the pains, and the moment.

“We want to make sure that glass slipper doesn’t fall off,” Knapp said.