For the first time in school history, Harper Creek has won back-to-back district championships in boys’ basketball.
Harper Creek defeated Marshall, 83-74, in this Class B district championship final at Marshall High School on Friday.
With the victory, Harper Creek improves to 16-6 and will play Otsego in a Class B regional at Coloma on Monday.
“This is pretty special. First time we’ve gone back-to-back in boys’ basketball,” Harper Creek coach Matt Bowling said. “This was huge for us. It’s the first time we’ve done this and I’m really proud of that. Especially, since the bulls-eye was on us and we were able to show up and handle our business.”
The Beavers felt the pressure was on them to win this district title because they were playing a Marshall (6-17) team that had lost to Harper Creek twice already this season and had made it to the district championship with six wins on the season.
“Actually, we have a little bit of a feeling of relief. We knew this wasn’t going to be an easy game tonight because it was a rivalry game, a district final game on top of that and we knew we’d get a great effort out of Marshall,” Bowling said. “So it feels really good to get it done and the kids earned it. It was a hard-fought win.”
It was a hard-fought win for Harper Creek and a high-scoring victory, as well. Both teams put a lot of points on the board, backed up by some special individual performances.
Marshall sophomore guard Jacob Brubaker had 39 points, including seven 3-pointers in the loss.
Harper Creek junior guard Travon Johnson had 35 points and 10 assists in the victory for the Beavers. James Cadena had 24 points and seven rebounds with Khylen Watkins and Brandon Hutson chipping in eight points each.
“There were some pretty good offensive performances. You had some guys just banging down shots,” Bowling said. “I think the defense gets overlooked, I don’t think it was horrible defense out there by anybody. You just have to give Travon and Brubaker credit because they were making plays. You just had two guys who were on fire.”
With that much offense being played by both teams, neither could sustain a comfortable lead.
After Harper Creek had its first double-digit lead, Brubaker knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers and was fouled on a third attempt, making two free throws as Marshall climbed back to within 26-23 with 6:05 left in the half.
The Beavers held that small lead at intermission, at 39-35, but came out in the second half shooting the ball well again and after a 3-pointer by Johnson, Harper Creek was back up 47-37 with 7:00 left in the third quarter.
Harper Creek seemingly was going to pull away midway through the fourth quarter as the Beavers added to their lead. Cadena had a steal and a fastbreak layup, followed by a one-on-one move in the halfcourt by Johnson for a layup to give Harper Creek its biggest lead of the game at 74-56 with 4:30 left in the game.
But Marshall wouldn’t go away and after a 3-pointer by Brubaker, the Redhawks were within 80-70 with a little over 90 seconds remaining, but the home team couldn’t get much closer.
It was the end of a unlikely week for Marshall as the Redhawks came into the district with only four wins on the season, but still advanced to the championship game.
“This week was the best basketball we have played all year and that’s what we talked about after the game,” Marshall coach Nick Dent said. “We can’t be happy about losing ever, but this really was the best we’ve played all year, and we are already thinking about next year.
“We are young and we did a lot of growing up this last week. And, at the same time, I’m super proud of the seniors. Overall, I’m just proud of the way we finished this season.”
Marshall senior Angus Bennett added 24 points and 11 rebounds to the high-scoring effort by the Redhawks.
After winning a district title last year, Harper Creek came in to the season with a young team, but with a confidence that the Beavers could repeat. Getting the job done sends Harper Creek on the road to the regionals.
“Quietly, there were some goals we had at the start of the season and this was one of them,” Bowling said. “That’s why I think this was nice how this ended. You didn’t see a lot of celebration out there because this was something we expected to do.”