By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal
Cari Campbell knew exactly what was at stake on Wednesday night in Muskegon Catholic’s Class D regional final game.
His Muskegon Catholic Central Crusaders had the enviable tasking of knocking off the No. 1 team in the state or their season would be over.
Campbell and his teammates nearly pulled off a miracle victory before succumbing 56-53 in overtime to River Valley Conference rival Tri-unity Christian. The Defenders had defeated the Crusaders handily in two regular-season meetings.
“I knew I had to leave it on the court,” Campbell said. “I saw how my senior Jason Ribecky went out last year and I was going to play just as hard as he did because I saw the way he ended up. I just wanted to mirror that.”
Campbell turned in a huge game for the Crusaders with 24 points. He also dominated the boards and helped put a huge scare into the Defenders.
“Cari Campbell is a great player,” MCC coach Lamar Jordan said. “He’s probably one of the greatest players I have ever coached throughout my career and I’ve had him since he was a ninth grader.”
It wasn’t just Campbell who had the Defenders worried, it was the fact they knew the Crusaders would bring everything they had into the game.
“We knew coming in, I told the boys this is the one team in the regional I do not want to play,” Tri-unity coach Mark Keeler said. “They know us so well, we know them so well.”
And the Crusaders let the Defenders know right from the start they were not going to go down without a fight.
The game was tied at 12-all after the first quarter and Tri-unity led 21-20 at the half. It was 31-all after three quarters.
Then came a fourth quarter in which just three field goals were made, two by the Defenders and one by MCC. The other 24 came from the free-throw line.
It was a tight game throughout, although as the clock began to run down, the Crusaders were able to build a lead with his free-throw shooting and the failure of the Defenders to hit their shots. Muskegon Catholic led 42-36 after Adam Callow’s two free throws with 1:36 left.
The Defenders pulled to within 42-39 with 1:22 left, but John Daniel made two free throws for the Crusaders to make it 44-29 with 1:07 left.
Tri-unity’s Daniel Cole hit two free throws 5secodns later, but the Crusaders missed two just 2 seconds later. Joey Blauwkamp, who led the Defenders with 23 points, scored on a drive, was fouled and converted the three-point play to tie the game at 44-all with 53 seconds left.
MCC ran the clock down to 15.6 seconds before Campbell was fouled and hit both free throws to make it 46-44.
Blauwkamp was fouled 4 seconds later and made one free throw to make it 46-45. Campbell was immediately fouled and calmly canned two free throws.
Tri-unity came down the court trailing by three and the final 11 seconds ticking away. Clay Prins missed a 3-pointer , but Blaukamp got the rebound and flipped it out to Nick Klaasen, who found Przybysz open above the top of the key. His shot fell at the buzzer and forced overtime.
“Bad bounce, they get the offensive rebound and they knock down a 3,” Jordan said. “It’s the difference of them making that shot (and forcing overtime) or missing that shot and us winning.”
The shot was a welcome sight for Keeler, who saw his team struggle with their outside shooting all night long.
“I knew he could make it,” Keeler said. “I didn’t know if it was going in. We got a nice shot and a told the boys to crash the boards and we’ve got enough time.”
In the extra 4 minutes, the Defenders made 8-of-12 free throws and MCC made 5-of-10.
Prins gave Tri-unity a four-point lead with 18.3 seconds left in OT, but Campbell matched those two with 12.5 seconds left.
Blauwkamp made 1-of-2 for Tri-unity with 12 seconds left and Callow hit two for MCC with 8.2 seconds left.
Tri-unity rebounded the second free throw and advanced up the court, but then threw the ball into the corner. Campbell had a step on Prins for the ball and was fouled.
After missing the first free throw, Campbell purposely missed the second, but crossed the line too quickly in an attempt to get an offensive rebound. Blauwkamp made 1-of-2 free throws with 0.7 seconds left for the final margin of victory.
“I thought we came into the game and did what we really wanted to do,” Jordan said. “Offensively, we wanted to control the tempo and I thought we did that throughout the game.”
Besides Blauwkamp’s 23 points, Cole was the other Defender in double figures with 16 points. Post player Matt Wachter had 11 rebounds and four blocks to go with six points.
Campbell finished with 24 points, followed by Daniel with 11 and Callow with seven.
MCC finished the season 12-12.
Tri-unity 56, Muskegon Catholic 53, OT
Joey Blauwkamp 6 11-17 23, Evan Przybysz 3 1-2 9, Clay Prins 0 2-2 2, Daniel Cole 3 12-14 16, Matt Wachter 2 2-3 6. Totals 14 28-38 56
Ian Tyler 1 3-6 5, Cari Campbell 7 10-15 24, Adam Callow 2 3-4 7, John Daniel 3 4-4 11, Lamar Jordan 0 2-2 2, Brant McCollum 2 0-0 4. Totals 15 22-31 53.
Tri-unity 12 – 9 – 10 – 17 – 8 — 56
MCC 12 – 8 – 11 – 17 – 5 — 53
3-pointers: Przybysz (3), Daniel. Fouled out: Cole, Prins, Jordan, McCollum. Total fouls: Tri-unity 23, M. Catholic 25. Technicals: McCollum.