Pioneer cagers win first league title of 21st century

The Gabriel Richard basketball team beat Marine City Cardinal Mooney 63-56 to win its first Catholic League title since 1999. Photo by Anna Lisa Fedo

SPORTS

Hank Minckiewicz
RIVERVIEW REGISTER

It had been two decades since the Gabriel Richard boys basketball team did what it did on the floor of Callahan Hall on the campus of the University of Detroit-Mercy on Feb. 29 — celebrate a Catholic League championship.

The Pioneers beat Marine City Cardinal Mooney 63-56 to claim the Cardinal Division  title. And it was no fluke, the Pioneers beat the Cardinals on three separate occasions this season.

The Pioneers controlled the game from the outset and held a six- to eight-point lead most of the afternoon. The Pioneers even opened the margin to the near-blowout level of 19 points, but the Mariners had a fourth-quarter comeback in them.

The Mariners hit virtually every shot from everywhere in the fourth quarter as they rallied. Richard helped out, too, by making just 13-of-25 free throws in the fourth quarter. The Mariners hit five three-point bombs in the fourth quarter alone after only making three in the first 24 minutes of the game.

But Richard’s early lead too was big and when Mike Holdsclaw hit four big free throws in the final two minutes and Nick Szczechowski hit two more, the Pioneers had enough points to earn the right to hang a league championship banner.

Mooney played good games against Richard each of the first two times the teams met, which made the Mariners’ decision to play a box-in-one defense on Szczechowski a head scratcher.

Richard coach Kris Daiek accepts the 2019-20 Catholic League championship trophy. Photo by Anna Lisa Fedo

Box-in-one defenses are great against a team with a star player and a bunch of other role players, but that does not describe Richard. Szczechowski, Holdsclaw, Robbie Henderson and Mike Calhoun and others are all capable of shouldering the scoring burden.

With a chaser on Szczechowski the other four Mariner defenders backed into a zone and that left plenty of room for Holdsclaw, who used the opportunity to attack the rim again and again.

Mooney stubbornly refused to abandon the defensive scheme and Holdsclaw wound up burning them for 25 points.

It was likely no coincidence that Mooney’s comeback coincided with a switch to a pressure man-to man defense late in the game.

The unsung Richard hero was Calhoun, who was scoreless in the first half, but dominated the paint after the intermission. He was unguardable in the third quarter when he scored nine points and he added three more in the fourth quarter. Perhaps more important was his second half rebounding, especially on the offensive end of the floor.

Despite being hounded throughout the game, Szczechowski chipped in with eight points.

The Pioneers reached the CHSL finals by beating Grosse Pointe University Liggett 62-36 and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood 75-50.

The win in the championship game was Richard’s 18th of the year. The Pioneers have lost just once, against Flint Powers Catholic.

Next up for the Pioneers is the Michigan High School Athletic Association state tournament and the Pioneers will host a Division 3 district tournament. They played March 11 against Taylor Prep and the championship game is March 13.

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