BY DAN STICKRADT
WEST BLOOMFIELD — The last time that Rochester won a regional championship in boys basketball, even some of the grandparents of the current Falcons had not been born yet, or were, at the very least, small children themselves.
Regardless, Rochester was quite impressive in ending its 63-year drought Wednesday at West Bloomfield High School.
The unranked Falcons pulled away with a 42-22 second half to roll past Bloomfield Hills Lahser, 65-41, for the school’s first regional title since 1950 and just second in school history.
The last time Rochester (21-4) won a regional, rock-n-roll was even invented just yet. A senior on that team would be estimated at 81 years old right now. The Falcons eventually reached the Class B Final Four during that season over six decades ago, the only year the school has won a regional up until this season — spanning some 100 years of high school basketball.
“It’s crazy that it’s been so long,” offered Rochester coach John Pleasant, who had a team that carried a 20-game win streak into the postseason last year only to be upset in the district titles. “It’s not that the school hasn’t had some great players and some very good teams. For whatever the reason, we haven’t been able to get this far since the 50s. It’s been a long, long time — too long.”
Rochester last played in the regional finals in 1988, when they lost to Port Huron, 62-48, also in Class A. Before that, the Falcons lost in the Class B regional finals to Utica in 1954.
After beating Lahser 62-55 a month ago, Rochester beat up on the Knights in phases of the game this time around.
Junior point guard Jason Lee helped the Falcons record their fourth straight postseason win all by holding the opposition to under 45 points. The on-the-ball defender finished with six points, five rebounds and eight assists to go along with some frustrating defense on the Knights’ ball-handlers and perimeter shooters.
Senior guard James Young, headed for Kentucky, scored 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half to go along with 13 rebounds and five steals to compensate for foul trouble for his teammates, especially 6-foot-8 senior center Arben Camaj.
Camaj finished with nine points, making 4-of-5 field goals, to go along with four blocked shots in limited minutes due to fouls. Senior forward Manny Mendoza scored 11 points with seven rebounds and junior forward Mike Murri was a sparkplug as well, chipping in with six points and five rebounds.
Rochester finished the night with a 35-29 rebounding edge, shot 23-for-49 from the floor (47 percent) and made 15-of-20 free throws. The Falcons finished 3-for-12 from three-point range.
“I know that teams really try to stop me and Arben, but we can’t do it all ourselves,” said Young, one of the leading candidates for the Mr. Basketball award. “We’ve had a lot of guys really step up. Jason Lee, Mike Murri, Manny Mendoza … a lot of guys have stepped up. I couldn’t be more proud of what we have accomplished as a team.”
Rochester held a narrow 23-19 lead at the break, as both teams struggled from the floor over the first 16 minutes. In the second half, the Falcons heated up while Lahser remained ice cold.
Rochester outscored Lahser 18-10 in the third quarter to open up a 41-29 lead, then closed with a 24-12 fourth period to place an exclamation point on the victory.
“I think we were nervous in the first half. Both teams were nervous,” said Pleasant. “But I think we settled down in the second half and we did a great job on them defensively. James took over in the second half and guys like Jason Lee were fantastic. I don’t know of anybody who plays defense like Jason Lee. He just gets after it, gets in your face and disrupts people. Our whole team defense has been very good in the postseason. Early in the year, we were a good team, but not great by any means.”
The Falcons forced 16 turnovers, had 10 team steals and limited the Knights (18-7) to a dismal 14-for-49 shooting night (28.6 percent), including 1-for-18 from beyond the three-point arc (six percent). Lahser also made 12-of-17 free throws.
“The ball didn’t bounce our way,” said Lahser coach Duane Graves. “The calls, for the most part, didn’t go our way. This is not the way we thought this would happen. We just couldn’t get any shots to fall.”
Yante Maten, a 6-9 junior center, finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks for Lahser. Junior guard Armand Cartwright added eight points, which included a 3-for-17 shooting performance, while fellow junior guard Khalil Gracey was held in check with six points and three assists for the Knights
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