McBain aims for new history at Breslin

Mar. 13—McBAIN — McBain fell to Traverse City St. Francis last year, and now the Ramblers look to take the same path.

No. 6-ranked McBain (25-2) faces No. 3 Niles Brandywine (24-3) in the Division 3 state semifinals at noon Thursday at the Breslin Student Events Center on the campus of Michigan State University.

The Gladiators also played Brandywine in the semifinals last season, coming out with a 10-point win.

Freshman sixth man Clayton Heuker said going to Breslin is something of childhood playground dreams. It's the fifth such trip for McBain in the last 30 seasons, with one state championship trophy coming back.

"It's really crazy to me," Heuker said. "I'm 15 years old and it's just so much fun to come out here and play with these guys. It's such a privilege that I can do it. I'm just so lucky that I have this team around, like Evan (Haverkamp) and Ben (Rodenbaugh) and everybody. It's just so much fun. I'm so glad that we can go to the Breslin this year."

The Ramblers beat the Menominee Maroons in Tuesday's quarterfinal at Gaylord, and now turn their sights on the Bobcats, whose colors are maroon and gold.

McBain's only two losses this season are to Division 1 teams.

Rodenbaugh was at Breslin watching as his older brother Nick played in the 2016 semifinals. Now he's going on his own.

"I just remember that there's just so much talent," Ben Rodenbaugh said. "Any team at that stage is just so competitive, and if they start going off you have to fire back and go play great defense."

His brother Dan's 2020-21 squad fell in the quarters to Iron Mountain and star guard Foster Wonders.

"I got to see him out there and it's just a dream come true because my third brother just fell short in this game against Iron Mountain in 2021," Ben Rodenbaugh said. "I'm just glad I could fulfill that. And for coach, I don't know how many years he has left, so just to give him this final run and maybe give him another ring, it's just a dream come true."

Head coach Bruce Koopman said the narrow 51-49 quarterfinal triumph reminded him of the Ramblers' 2011 quarterfinal victory, when the Ramblers took down an Upper Peninsula foe in a Big North Conference gym.

Sounds awfully familiar.

"I go back to 2011 and ironically enough we were back and forth with Negaunee in Petoskey and we had to hit two threes to send it into overtime and then it came down to relatively same thing. We had a one-point lead and they went full court and kid got a decent look off. Thank God, he missed it, so I've been there. I know these are going to be like this. I'm just waiting for the heart attack and I just drop over."

The Ramblers followed that overtime win over Negaunee by beating Flint Beecher in overtime in the state semifinals, eventually falling to Schoolcraft in the championship game.

"Evan and Ben, those two guys have been great leaders," Koopman said. "They both have been up (on varsity) three years, and I've just seen the maturity in them. When those two guys are locked in and they're not getting emotional and they're not getting out of sorts, all the rest of our guys are calm."

Koopman hinted at possibly retiring after this season, his 30th on the Rambers' bench.

The Bobcats return four of five starters from last year's team that lost 46-36 to TC St. Francis in last year's semifinals. The Gladiators, who also toppled McBain in the regional finals, held Brandywine without a double-digit scorer in that contest.

The new fifth starter, Brock Dye, averages 3.0 points and 3.0 rebounds a game.

Senior 6-1 forward Jeremiah Palmer averages 13.8 points, almost three steals a game and a team-high 5.7 rebounds, while 6-1 senior guard Byron Linley pitches in 13.4 points and 3.1 boards and 6-0 sophomore guard Nylen Goins contributes 11 points a game. Senior 6-0 guard Jamier Palmer averages 9.4 points, 4.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds and game.

The Ramblers counter with 6-foot-9 center Evan Haverkamp — the tallest player in the Division 3 Final Four, along with Detroit Old Redford backup sophomore Anterris Hill.

Haverkamp averages 16.8 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks, with Heuker checking in at 8.1 points and almost five rebounds a game and Rodenbaugh averaging 7.4 points, 5.3 assists and 5.6 boards a game. Nathan Koetje adds 6.9 points, Claydon Ingleright 6.1 and Carson Murphy 4.6.

Follow @Jamescook14 on Twitter.