EAST LANSING - They can finally celebrate.
For the first time in school history, the New Haven Rockets boys basketball team can call themselves state champions.
After a slow start, New Haven came alive behind its defense and surged past Ludington, 45-36, for a Class B state championship at the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University on Saturday.
"It was surreal," New Haven coach Tedaro France II said. "To look up at the crowd and see people standing and look at the clock and know you are going to win the game.
"It shows how far we have come in my ninth year here. It's been amazing."
New Haven (27-1) held Ludington (25-3) scoreless for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter while making timely offensive plays to take control of the game.
Romeo Weems had 19 points to lead New Haven and Eric Williams scored 14 points.
"I looked up at the end of the game and there were 18 seconds left," Weems said. "I hugged Ashton (Sherrell) and said, 'We got it.' It was great. All the hard work paid off."
Each team got off to a slow start at the onset of the game. But New Haven found momentum when Williams brought everyone to their feet with a thunderous dunk.
The big play momentarily gave the Rockets the advantage, but it was short-lived. Ludington found its groove late in the quarter and went on a quick surge to lead 11-7 entering the second quarter. The Orioles advantage continued to grow as the second quarter began.
They led by as much as 15-7 to force a New Haven timeout. Just when the Orioles seemed to be pulling away, the Rockets began to respond. Weems, Williams and Tavares Oliver recorded baskets to start a 6-0 run which quickly ballooned to an 11-2 surge.
"We got the stops we needed and that carried us over with momentum," Williams said. "To finally get here in the big stage is an honor, to know my hard work paid off."
In a flash, New Haven was right back in the game, leading 18-17 with just under three minutes left in the first half. Williams was fouled on a 3-point attempt with less than a second left in the half and after sinking all three free throws, New Haven led 23-19 at halftime.
The third quarter was highly contested as each team tried its best to take control. Ludington continued to control the pace while the Rockets struggled to find offense. But Weems added a dunk to keep the Rockets ahead and New Haven led 31-30 entering the fourth quarter.
With the game and a state championship on the line, the Rockets were at their best in the fourth quarter. New Haven held Ludington scoreless the first six minutes of the quarter to take full control.
New Haven continued to frustrate the Orioles offense down the stretch and then held them off from the free-throw line.
New Haven will graduate seniors Williams and AJ Crawford, among others. They will return Weems, who will be one of the top ranked players in the state. The soon-to-be junior is already thinking big.
"In the fourth quarter we played our tempo and we pulled it out," Weems said. "I could tell they were tired in the fourth quarter. They ran out of gas.
"I hope I win another state championship and continue to get better. (I'm going to) try to win Mr. Basketball and McDonald's All-American."