Charlie Howell's 28 points guide Cadillac to 59-52 D1 regional semis win over Traverse City West

Mar. 5—GAYLORD — The Cadillac Vikings are back in the regional championship game for the third straight year.

This time around, it will be a tough hill to climb for the Vikings.

Cadillac had to scratch and claw to advance to the Division 1 boys basketball regional championship game Tuesday after defeating Traverse City West, 59-52, in the semifinals at Gaylord High School.

Thursday will be the first time the Vikings will play for a Division 1 regional championship after competing in the Division 2 regional championship game the past two seasons.

"We are going to have to play our type of basketball because, downstate, it's a different breed," Cadillac senior forward Charlie Howell said. "They do stuff differently, so as long as we can stick to our roots and what we do best, we'll be all right Thursday."

Not many teams in the northern Michigan area have recently conquered the feat of playing in the Division 1 state quarterfinals, let alone made it to Breslin Center in East Lansing.

Vikings head coach Ryan Benzenberg knows his team will be underdogs against fifth-ranked Muskegon back at Gaylord High School on Thursday, but their schedule this season has prepared them for these moments.

After losing 61-46 to Wayne Memorial in the Northern Michigan Showcase at Traverse City St Francis last month, Benzenberg considers the loss a learning experience of what to expect if they wanted to make it past the regional rounds.

"Am I happy we lost? No. But I am more happy for the experience we had to go through," Benzenberg said. "When somebody is right up in our stuff, super physical with us, it won't be foreign to us because we've already gone through it."

West played a physical brand of basketball for four quarters and made Howell work for his game-high 28 points.

The Vikings started the first quarter with a 7-0 lead. Junior guard Eli Main splashed a 3-pointer followed by Howell sinking several 2-pointers. The Titans rallied to cut the Vikings' lead to 10-9 before Howell and Main continued what they started by ending the first ahead 15-9.

West junior guard Lincoln Lockhart didn't allow Cadillac to run away with it as he finished with a team-high 26 points. Lockhart scored 10 of the Titans' 15 second-quarter points for West as Cadillac entered halftime ahead 32-24.

"He just shows up. He's a gamer and has ice in his veins," West head coach Doug Baumann said of Lockhart. "When it comes to games like this, he wants the ball."

Lockhart started the third with a trip to the free-throw line after making a layup to cut the deficit to 32-27. The Vikings didn't waver and continued to splash points to lead by as many as nine points in the quarter. The Vikings were without Howell for the remaining two minutes because he picked up his third foul.

West took advantage of the opportunity and entered the fourth quarter down 44-38.

Tuesday was the second time Benzenberg had to pull Howell for being in foul trouble this season. Benzenberg was happy with how the team battled without Howell on the floor.

"Now that it's over, for our kids to persevere through it, we'll be better for having gone through it. So, hopefully, that helps us going forward," Benzenberg said.

Lockhart started the fourth with a 3-pointer to bring the Titans within three at 44-41, but junior forward Grant Williams responded with a three to extend the lead to back to six points.

West senior guard Ben Habers and Main went point-for-point with Habers drilling a wide-open 3-pointer to make it 49-46, but a 2-pointer by Main put Cadillac ahead 51-46.

"I thought Eli did a good job. He made some free throws late and controlled the game for us. Didn't turn it over," Benzenberg said.

Howell contributed in the fourth by making a living at the free-throw line, going 4-for-6. After Howell sunk his last free throw to make it 55-50 with under two minutes, West junior guard Caden Stoops found his way to the charity stripe to make it 55-52.

West had several attempts to tie it, but turnovers and foul troubles helped the Vikings pull off the victory.

Main finished with nine points, six rebounds and three assists. Howell also led the team with nine rebounds and two steals. Junior forward Gavin Goetz finished with five points and five assists.

Stoops finished with 10 points, and Habers finished with eight.

Baumann considers this season a success for the West basketball program after setting a school record in wins at 19-6 overall and capturing a district championship for the first time since 2017.