All five Catholic League Central Division schools claim basketball district titles
Mar 5, 2019
WARREN — Welcome to the Catholic League basketball tournament, part two.
At least that’s what it will seem like at the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s regional competition hosted by Southfield Arts and Technology this week. Tonight, Warren De La Salle will square off against University of Detroit-Jesuit, while the other semifinal Tuesday night pits Birmingham Brother Rice against Grosse Pointe North. The winners play on Thursday.
“I don’t want to say it’s not fair, but I haven’t seen that before since I’ve been here for 25-years plus — three teams from the Central Division in the same regional,” said De La Salle coach Greg Esler, who coached his 600th game with the Pilots on Feb. 22. “I shouldn’t complain that all three of us are left alive, but it’s going to be an interesting regional, no question.”
If that weren’t enough, the other two teams in the Catholic League’s Central Division — Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Novi Detroit Catholic Central — also advanced to regional play, giving the Central a perfect five-for-five performance in the single-elimination state tournament’s opening week.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Esler continued. “Our league is tougher than any in the state of Michigan. All five teams won their district championship — I don’t think top-to-bottom there’s a better league than the Catholic League.”
The Pilots (13-9) are well-versed in post-season play, having won 22 district championships in Esler’s 25 years as varsity coach, so winning a district is a common expectation among the coaches and players each season.
“Our goal every year is to win the state championship,” he said. “This year, after losing nine seniors from last year, we just wanted to get better and better, and that’s what we did.”
In 2018, De La Salle went well beyond district play — the Pilots reached the Class A semifinals, falling to eventual state champion Clarkston. They beat University of Detroit-Jesuit in the quarterfinals, and the rematch comes one round earlier this time.
“We’ve played them a million times. We played them four times last year, twice already this year, so we know what they’re going to do and they probably know what we’re going to do, too,” Esler said. “The biggest thing is keeping our composure, getting off to a good start, and competing. They’ve got a lot of talent, they’re well-coached; there are reasons they’re one of the best teams in the state.”
The Cubs (21-2) won both meetings with De La Salle this winter, but not without challenges. On their home court, the Pilots pushed the Cubs to overtime before the contest was decided by 2 points.
Last week, UD-Jesuit rolled by Oak Park, Detroit Renaissance and host Detroit Mumford to win its district. In the final, the Cubs thrashed Mumford, 68-28, holding the Mustangs to 73 points fewer than what they scored in their 101-97 semifinal victory against Southfield.
The UD-Jesuit/De La Salle showdown isn’t the only storyline among Catholic League teams still playing in the post-season, though. The other half of the Southfield regional bracket includes Brother Rice, which won its first district crown since 2010. Even though the Warriors (11-12) were winless in league play, the experience enabled them to defeat neighborhood rivals Birmingham Groves, Birmingham Seaholm and Berkley in the state tournament.
Meanwhile, Catholic Central (16-6) got past Novi, Farmington and Northville to win its district. Most notable was the opener at Novi, as Shamrocks coach Brandon Sinawi guided that squad to the Class A semifinals last year before accepting the coaching job at Catholic Central. (He still teaches in the Novi district, by the way.) The Shamrocks open regional play Tuesday at Ypsilanti Lincoln against Wayne Memorial.
And St. Mary’s — no stranger to deep post-season runs itself — won its district with victories over Waterford Mott and Bloomfield Hills. Next up for the Eaglets (15-7) is a regional semifinal tonight at Howell against the host school.
Four other Catholic League schools in smaller divisions won their districts as well: Divine Child (in Division 2), Detroit Loyola and Riverview Gabriel Richard (in Division 3), and Marine City Cardinal Mooney (in Division 4). It’s the third consecutive season that Divine Child advances into the regionals, and second in a row for Loyola.
The last time a Catholic League school won a state championship in boys’ basketball was 2015-16, when UD-Jesuit defeated North Farmington, 69-49, to take the Class A title.