By George Pohly
MARYSVILLE >> A.J. Crawford III has been a New Haven Rocket for one season.It has felt like much longer to the former Cousino basketball player.
“From the start, when I came here, I saw how upset people were over losing in the quarterfinals, of being so close to a state championship game,” Crawford said Tuesday. “You could hear the hurt in their voices.”
The hurt is gone.
Crawford scored a team-high 20 points to lead the Rockets to a 73-66 victory over Detroit Osborn that gave New Haven the first boys quarterfinal victory in program history and sent the northern Macomb County team into a state Class B semifinal that will be played Friday night at the Breslin Center.
New Haven had been 0-4 in quarterfinal games, including losses to Detroit Henry Ford each of the last two years, since winning its first regional championship in 1990.
“Finally,” Crawford said when asked his thoughts as the clock hit zero and the Rockets began to celebrate at center court.
“Even though I’ve been here only one year – finally,” Crawford said. “I felt all those years. I feel like I've been here for four years. Finally, we did it, but we’re not finished.
“One of our goals is to get to the Breslin, but our ultimate goal is to win that state championship.”
Crawford, a senior guard, joined a New Haven a program that had won consecutive league and regional championships and had established stars in sophomore Romeo Weems and Eric Williams.
A veteran of AAU teams as well as Cousino squads, Crawford quickly learned something upon his arrival in New Haven.
“Playing with other teams,” he said, “I had teammates who liked to play basketball, but they weren’t ball players. These boys here, they work it. They’re in the gym in the morning before school, after school; before practice and after practice.
“It’s been a grind since the fall.”
But a “grind” was what Crawford wanted when he enrolled at New Haven.
“That’s what I was doing before I came here,” he said. “To come here and find out that’s what these people do, it was a blessing.
“I needed to put my effort in. I had to give my all to make this happen.”
Added New Haven coach Tedaro France II, “He was able to pick up the vibe of who we are and what we’re about.”
Crawford had 11 rebounds against Osborn.
On a night when the Rockets struggled from the free throw line, making only 16 of 34 for the game, and missing 11 free throws in the fourth quarter, Crawford sank two foul shots to give New Haven a 69-66 lead with 33.8 seconds to play.
“I just attacked,” Crawford said of his approach to the game against the Detroit Public School League Knights. “I was confident. My dad says the tighter the game, the more relaxed and confident I am.
“I just played my role. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”
Williams had 16 points and 13 rebounds, Ashton Sherrell had 11 rebounds, and Weems collected 15 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and two steals.
The New Haven victory gave the county a state semifinalist for the second consecutive season.
Dakota advanced to the Class A semifinals in 2016.
New Haven plays Benton Harbor at 6 p.m. Friday.