IMLAY CITY They are right where they belong.
For the fifth consecutive year, the New Haven High School boys basketball team has played its way into the regional finals. And for five consecutive years, the Rockets have left with a regional championship to celebrate.
New Haven defeated Pontiac High School, 55-38, Thursday at Imlay City High School to capture its latest Division 2 regional title.
"Everybody got locked in and started turning up," New Haven senior Romeo Weems said after scoring 13 points. "The crowd got into it. My bench got into it. Everyone got into it and we went on a run. We have one of the best defenses in the the state.
"We can never have a bad defensive night. Our offensive shot might not be falling, but defensively we know we can always come out and play. I hate losing, so I'm going to do everything I can for my team and my coach."
The Rockets (24-1) advance to face Harper Woods Chandler Park (20-0) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Ortonville-Brandon High School in the state quarterfinals.
Ronald Jeffrey III banked in a buzzer beater as the first half concluded en route to a game-high 19 points for New Haven. Trenell Payne added seven points for the Rockets. D'Quarion Cole led Pontiac with 16 points and DeShawn Owens added 12 points.
"All of the credit goes to them," Pontiac coach Joel Schroeder said. "New Haven, they are a storied program for a few years. We saw it the other day, their half-court defense, they play at a high level.
"We handled their full-court pressure great. It was just the half-court. Their secondary guys play at a high level, too, and Romeo can clean up all of the mistakes."
New Haven won its 23rd straight game behind another strong defensive effort. Pontiac took a 9-8 lead less than a minute into the second quarter.
But it was short-lived as the Rockets turned up their defensive intensity.
They would hold Pontiac scoreless the next six minutes, while engineering a 15-0 run to take complete control.
By the time Jeffrey III banked in a 3-pointer from half-court as the second quarter ended, New Haven had a 27-15 lead and was in command.
The Rockets extended the lead in the third quarter, and led 42-23 entering the fourth quarter. They were never really challenged there and had plenty of time to celebrate.
Jeffrey III threw a pass off the backboard, which was slammed home by Weems, and nearly everyone in the Imlay City gym was back on their feet cheering for the Rockets once more.
"They had players that could dribble the ball," Jeffrey III said. "We went into halftime and Romeo got us together and said we had to sit down and play defense. That's how we play."
Now the Rockets will face their biggest test of the season against a Harper Woods team that has also rarely been challenged.
"I'm just so happy for the kids," New Haven coach Tedaro France II said. "I work them so hard. The joy on their faces now shows the hard work that they put in daily to be here. It's great to see them smile from all of the hard work.
"I'm so proud of them and how they learn. It's great because they know we will win games from playing defense."
Contact Joseph Hayes at (810) 989-6268 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Joseph_Hayes11.