All season long, coach Brent Boerma has preached composure to his Central High Phoenix boys basketball team.
On Tuesday, that lesson paid off.
The Phoenix kept their cool with the going got rough and scored back-to-back victories over the Wavecrest Warriors to claim the Lakeshore Honors League championship.
The Phoenix entered the evening with one league loss, while Wavecrest was unbeaten.
Central High won Tuesday’s opening matchup, played at White Pines Middle School, 55-51, to force a second and deciding game.
In that contest, the Phoenix let a nine-point lead slip away, but took advantage of a Wavecrest meltdown to win, 54-38.
For more photos from Tuesday's game, click here.
After the game, the Phoenix’s fans stormed the court in celebration.
“That was awesome,” said the Phoenix’s Ryan Kaufman. “It’s what we couldn’t do at the Breslin.”
Kaufman said he and most of the other Phoenix players were at the Breslin Center in East Lansing on Saturday to watch the Grand Haven Buccaneers’ girls basketball team win the Class A state title.
The Phoenix took home their championship in strange fashion.
They led 38-29 in the third quarter thanks to several buckets by Jake Lovett and a steal and a layup by Hector Chavez.
Wavecrest battled back to within two points by the end of the third quarter, 38-36, and eventually took a 40-39 lead following a 3-pointer by Aaron Walker.
Tempers began to flare in the closing minutes of the game. First, players began chirping at each other. Then Walker was trapped along the end line. He tried to throw the ball off Kaufman and out of bounds, but instead drilled Kaufman in the face with the ball.
The Phoenix kept their cool, but still trailed 48-45 in the closing minute after Wavecrest’s Robert Shelton scored on a layup.
That’s when things fell apart for the Warriors.
First, Central’s Lovett grabbed an offensive rebound, was fouled and made the basket with 29 seconds remaining.
Wavecrest was called for a technical foul moments later. After Lovett made his free throw, Chavez split a pair from the line to give his team a 49-48 lead.
Central maintained possession of the ball after the technical foul, and Tyler Little was fouled. Little, who made two key free throws in Monday’s win over Allendale, hit one of two foul shots to make it 50-48.
On his miss, Lovett skied for the offensive rebound. He was fouled and made one free throw.
While he was on the line, a Wavecrest player got into a shouting match with some fans in the stands. He was asked to leave the game by the referee and responded by shouting expletives at the ref. He was given another technical foul and kicked out of the game.
That sent the Phoenix back to the line, where Chavez swished two free throws to ice the win.
“We talked all year long, you play with order, with control, you keep your wits about you, and cooler heads will prevail,” Burma said after the game. “That helps these guys in basketball and in their daily life.”
Phoenix forward Mike Penland agreed with his coach.
“Brent’s been telling us all year that the biggest part of basketball is between our ears,” he said.
“Other teams struggle with it,” Kaufman added. “He doesn’t want us to go down to their level.”
The Phoenix is made up of a mix of players from Central and Grand Haven high schools.
Penland, who attends GHHS, said playing alongside kids from Central High has introduced him to friends he’d otherwise never have met.
“A lot of people think Grand Haven kids and Central kids might not get along, but we all love basketball, we all love competition, and we all bonded,” Penland said.