Kalamazoo Christian claimed their second consecutive district championship Friday evening, defeating Hackett Catholic 35-31 from Gobles.
Although the Comets had beaten Hackett by 17 and 20 in their earlier meetings this season, the district game was unsurprisingly tight between the crosstown and conference rivals. K-Christian found themselves behind for much of the game and didn’t lead by two possessions until the final minute.
The Comets had the first point of the game on a free throw, followed by Hackett getting the opening field goal. Although it was tied thrice, the Irish did not trail for the rest of the first half. They led 10-6 at the end of the first quarter and grew the lead to seven as K-Christian had to keep Jordan Katje benched with two quick fouls.
The Comets ended the half with a 5-0 run in the final two minutes. In the final eight seconds, Noah de Jong stole the ball and scored to get K-Christian back within two at the intermission, 19-17.
“He plays amazing defense,” Kalamazoo Christian coach Brennan Davis said of de Jong, who ended up with a few more key defensive plays in the second half. He also was a big key in slowing down Hackett’s leading scorer Cooper Smith, who was limited to six points for the game.
John Cramer’s three-pointer put the Comets up 22-21 with 5:30 to go in the third, but the Irish scored the next two buckets to go back up by three. After a K-Christian two, Cooper Smith buried a triple for a four-point Hackett lead, their final two-possession lead of the evening. The Irish took a two point lead into the fourth quarter, 28-26.
The Comets reclaimed the lead with 6:10 left thanks to a big play by Katje. He stole the ball away, drove down the other end with two defenders in front of him, made the basket, and drew the foul. Katje then drained the free throw for a 29-28 lead.
“Katje stepped up big time when we needed him,” said coach Davis.
Hackett took the lead right back on a runner from Brennan Creek. On the ensuing possession, Colin Sikkenga bagged a three for the sixth and final lead change, putting the score at 32-30 with 5:20 remaining. It stayed at 32-30 until the final minute as neither team gave an inch.
“Both teams played excellent defense,” added Davis, who noted that it was the best defensive performance of the season.
“Everybody was scrapping, everybody was giving their all,” said Katje. “Defense is what we pride ourselves on, so that’s what we wanted to lock in.”
The Irish ended up with possession after a jump ball with 58 seconds remaining. However, Alex Scheffers and de Jong were able to knock the ball away from Smith for a Comet takeaway with 39 seconds remaining. They went ahead by two scores for the first time as de Jong assisted Katje with 20 seconds to go.
Hackett missed, followed by a Katje rebound with 12.3 remaining. They fouled him, then had to immediately foul Sean Cummings off the inbound to force free throws with 10 to go. He hit the front end and missed the back end, followed by a Hackett rebound. The Irish earned a shooting foul after a miss, but with only 1.4 remaining. They missed the first of two free throws, ending the faint hope that remained.
Katje led K-Christian with 14 points and 11 rebounds in the win. Brennan Creek topped Hackett offensively with eight.
“Always tough when the season ends, but wanted to thanks [sic] all our players, parents, and fans,” said Hackett coach Mark Haase on Twitter following the game. “It has been a great 3 years coaching the Irish.” They finish at 18-4 and graduate six seniors: Jacob Niesen, Cooper Smith, Casey Callagher, Ronald Cavanaugh, Jacob Wurtz, and Max Jones.
Kalamazoo Christian improves to 21-2 and will face Schoolcraft (17-6) for the second straight year in the regional semifinal. You can listen to that game live Monday via JoeInsider.com with a 5:30 p.m. start from Constantine High School.
“This is awesome, this is one of our dreams, but we’ve still got more goals,” said Katje. “We’ve got to keep going. Focus up, we’ve got a game Monday, so we’ll be ready.”
Their regional duel a year ago was a 53-47 Comet win in overtime. K-Christian defeated Schoolcraft 63-56 and 52-47 in their two contests this season. The Eagles advanced Friday with a 56-37 district final win over Marcellus. The other side of the bracket has Cassopolis (23-0) and Homer (13-9).
KALAMAZOO CHRISTIAN SCORING: Jordan Katje 14, Sean Cummings 8, Colin Sikkenga 5, Elliot Lemmer 3, John Cramer 3, Noah de Jong 2
HACKETT SCORING: Brennan Creek 8, Cooper Smith 6, Andrew Widger 4, Casey Gallagher 4, Jacob Niesen 3.