NEW HAVEN —
It was a battle between the top two Blue Water Area heavyweights.
The top two teams in the Times Herald boys basketball poll throughout the regular season were top-ranked New Haven and second-ranked Richmond.
On Friday at New Haven, they collided with a Division 2 district title at stake. After a competitive first half, New Haven ran away with a 92-53 victory to claim its fifth consecutive district title.
"When I took this job 11 years ago, we went 6-15 my first year," New Haven coach Tedaro France II recalled after the game. "God blessed me with the ability to coach here.
"It's about more than just the game. We want to teach life lessons through the game of basketball. They know I care about them more than just this game. That's why they play so hard."
It was crystal clear the best player on the court was New Haven senior Romeo Weems. The Mr. Basketball finalist controlled the pace of the game on offense with his athleticism and patrolled the lane on defense. He was a force in the open court as well as in a half-court set while making plays for his teammates.
Weems would finish the game with 36 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, in addition to three blocks and a pair of steals.
"It was a lot faster than we have played all year," Richmond senior Drew Davis said after scoring a team-high 20 points. "They have one of the top players in the country and you can't really match that in practice.
"We really wanted this one. We knew it wasn't going to be easy. But like I said, they have one of the top players in the country, a really good team and a really good coach. It wasn't going to be easy at all."
Weems was momentarily injured during the game, but after going down hard, he returned. Ronald Jeffrey III added 18 points and five assists for New Haven and Trenell Payne added 17 points, five rebounds and three steals.
Daveyon Henderson scored 15 points and Jackson Allen added nine for Richmond.
Rockets' second-half surgeAt the end of the first quarter, New Haven led Richmond, 13-6. At halftime, the score was 34-24 and Richmond remained within striking distance. But the Rockets opened the third period with an 11-0 run to blow open the game.
"They thought they were going to come and blow us out," Richmond junior Daveyon Henderson said. "In the third quarter, we just got a little tired."
By the time Richmond regrouped, it was too late. The Rockets had already surged ahead to a comfortable distance.
"We have been going so hard in practice," Jeffrey said after the win. "Once you lose, you are done. We have a lot of seniors on this squad and we just want to win. They hit us with some stuff we didn't prepare for and they kept switching back and forth each possession."
The Road ahead
Richmond (21-2) will graduate three seniors, Davis, Jackson Allen and Victor Munoz.
"Drew and Jackson set the foundation for us coming back," Richmond coach Josh Presnell said. "Daveyon is a hard worker. He's like they were. We are going to keep on going. We don't have a choice but to keep going."
New Haven (22-1) will return to action at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Imlay City against Goodrich (18-5). Goodrich advanced with an 82-51 victory over Imlay City.
"We have to take it day by day and try to learn from mistakes and keep our composure," France said. "In games like this, we can't let our emotions get the best of us. We have to stay within ourselves and continue to play team ball and stay together."
Contact Joseph Hayes at (810) 989-6268 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Joseph_Hayes11.