Good news follows Grand Rapids Catholic Central in return trip to state finals

EAST LANSING, MI – Grand Rapids Catholic Central coach TJ Meerman has no problems with a “flurry of 48 hours” as long as it creates a flurry of good news.

The flurry crescendoed Friday night, with Catholic Central knocking off Ferndale in the Division 2 semifinals for the second consecutive season, 82-71, at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center, earning a shot at back-to-back state championships.

The good news kept coming after the game. The Cougars, who wore “Kyle Strong” shirts before the game, learned from a text during the post-game press conference that surgery Friday on Catholic Central freshman Kyle Killebrew’s benign brain tumor was successful.

“He was diagnosed with a brain tumor, in the middle of everything,” Meerman said. “Great kid. It’s just been a flurry of 48 hours for the family.”

The news was also successful on the court, with the Cougars running their record to 25-1 and earning a spot in Saturday’s 6:45 pm state final at the Breslin Center. The path seems eerily similar, a fact Grand Rapids Catholic Central hopes continues for one more day.

“Not many teams have won back-to-back finals from the West side of the state,” Catholic Central senior Jack Karasinski said. “We came here to prove something to the entire state.”

Karasinski led all scorers with 34 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter.

“It’s just knowing my stroke,” Karasinski said. “Credit to my teammates for finding me.”

Last year, Catholic Central earned an 81-55 win over Ferndale in the semifinals before beating Battle Creek Pennfield, 77-54, for the title.

Treyvon Lewis scored 32 points with seven rebounds to lead 21-4 Ferndale in Friday’s loss after scoring 8 points in the 2021 semifinal.

“Last year was my fault we didn’t beat Catholic Central,” Lewis said. “This year, I feel it was my fault too. I feel like I should have led more. I feel responsible for two losses to Catholic Central.”

A traditional 3-point play by Karasinski gave Catholic Central a 50-30 lead with 3:48 remaining in the third quarter, the Cougars’ biggest lead of the game.

“We didn’t so some little things,” Ferndale coach Juan Rickman said. “When the game was close, we didn’t get rebounds. Catholic Central gets a lot of points off rebounds and turnovers.”

Ferndale committed 17 turnovers, leading to 18 Catholic Central points.

“Everything starts with our defense,” Catholic Central coach TJ Meerman said. “When we get stops and we rebound, there are opportunities to run, and we have shooters all over the place.”

Durral Brooks followed Karasinski with 22 points, eight assists, six rebounds and five steals. Kaden Brown led the Cougars with nine assists.

Jason Drake Jr. added 12 points for Ferndale before fouling out. Cameron Reed followed with nine points. Chris Williams led the Eagles with eight rebounds.

“I feel good about the kids coming back,” Rickman said. “Making them tough, gym rats, being on time … those are the core pieces of our program. We make provisions, not excuses.”

If Catholic Central wins Saturday, it would join select Grand Rapids company with back-to-back state titles. Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills won back-to-back Class A titles in 1968 and 1969, with Grand Rapids Covenant Christian claiming Class D state titles in 1993 and 1994.

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