By Jacob Arvidson
But as it turned out, the two area powers were on a crash course to meet in the Class C regional semifinals.
The showdown occurred Monday night at Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian High School, and the outcome wasn’t as close as everyone expected.
A packed gymnasium witnessed Heights open the game with a 13-0 run and cruise to a 58-39 victory over Shelby.
Muskegon Heights, now 19-3 on the season, advances to Wednesday’s regional championship game against Calvin Christian at 7 p.m. at NorthPointe Christian. Calvin Christian beat Lakeview 57-40 in the other regional semifinal on Wednesday.
Shelby, the West Michigan Conference co-champion, finished the season 20-3.
“That cushion helped us to be comfortable the entire game,” said Muskegon Heights Coach Del Stewart about the early burst that put his team in control. “And it put them in a position where they had to scrap their initial game plan.”
Muskegon Heights led 17-6 at the end of the first quarter, which was as close as Shelby would get. The Tigers’ lead was 36-13 at halftime and 41-20 after three quarters.
Going into the game, Stewart knew his team had to slow down Shelby big man Jeffrey Beckman and his cousin, point guard Danny Beckman, to have success.
“We wanted to double,” Stewart said about Jeffrey Beckman. “He has the ability to get going and we don’t have anybody with that size.”
Heights instituted a 3-2 zone and double-teamed any Shelby player who dared catch the ball in a corner.
The game plan worked wonders in the first half when Muskegon Heights was able to force 10 Shelby turnovers.
“I don’t know if I expected it to be as effective as it was, but I wanted it to be,” Stewart said. “I wanted to try to offset their size with our speed.”
Despite keying on the Beckmans, Jeffrey still finished with 17 points and nine rebounds and Danny scored 15 points.
But the Beckmans didn’t get much help offensively from their teammates, and their points were offset by the strong offensive performance of Muskegon Heights guards Antoine Jones (15 points) and Anthony Jones and Eonte Tornes (eight points apiece).
But it was the senior leadership of Anthony Gordon that put Heights over the top and gave them the advantage.
Gordon hit three 3-pointers in the second quarter, including a buzzer-beater to end the half, to put his team in firm control. He finished the contest with 15 points.
“All year he has been the coach on the floor,” Stewart said. “He has all the respect from the players. He hits big shots when we need it. He settles things down when we need it. He’s our (Michigan State star) Denzel Valentine.”
Muskegon Heights also got some production down low from Keishon Watson, who scored nine points, and DeKari Brown, who pulled down six rebounds.
Gordon and his teammates fed off of the love and energy exhibited by their fans.
The team was victimized earlier this season when a shooting involving non-students occurred in their school parking lot after one of their games.
Shelby cancelled its annual game with Muskegon Heights a few weeks ago, which was supposed to be played at Muskegon Heights Academy. That occurred after some Shelby parents expressed concerns about safety.
“I love my community,” Gordon said. “We want to win a championship for the community and help everyone get better, and to bring the city something they can look forward to and not violence. Everybody looks at Muskegon Heights as the wrong type of place, but we’re actually good people.”