By George Pohly
Macomb Daily Sports Editor
BROWN CITY -- At the beginning of the season, they yelled at one another.
On Friday, they yelled together as district basketball champions.
Seniors Robert Farr and Tyler Smith scored 19 and 17 points, respectively, to lead an otherwise young New Haven team to a 66-45 victory over Vassar in the Class C boys district final at Brown City High School.
Trailing 19-15 after one quarter, New Haven switched to a zone defense and outscored the Vulcans 34-15 in the second and third quarters combined to win going away in a setting that had a retro feel.
New Haven, a member of the Macomb Area Conference Gold Division that did not play a Class C school until the state tournament began, started three sophomores with Farr and Smith as the Rockets captured their third district crown since 2006, and their first under former New Haven player Tedaro France, now their coach.
“It was hard at the beginning of the season,” Farr said. “We were yelling at each other all the time. But we came together at the middle of the year.
“Now we’re district champions.”
Farr, Smith and France agreed that a mid-season MAC crossover victory over Class A L’Anse Creuse North, the defending Red Division champion, proved to the Rockets they could mesh their veteran and young talent.
“Everybody realizes what we have to do,” said Smith. “It’s tournament time. The sophomores aren’t sophomores anymore; they’re juniors.
“We don’t think about ages or experience. We’re just a varsity basketball team.”
The Rockets’ eighth district championship since 1990 was achieved at a Brown City gymnasium where New Haven and the Green Devils had numerous battles when both were members of the Southern Thumb Association.
The Brown City gym is a throwback, with a relatively low ceiling and wooden bleachers that sit close to the court.
And on this night, in a match-up of small-town teams, the Rockets’ three-sophomore starting lineup could have reminded long-time New Haven fans of the 1968-69 team that featured 10th-graders Eli Sims, Roy Lee and Scott Belt in its starting unit.
That club, too, was a district champion.
“It feels great to win,” France, a basketball and football standout at New Haven, said after his team won before a crowd that included former Rockets standouts Chris Dilbert and Don Sims. “This is my home town.
“Even though I played football (at Central Michigan), I love hoops. I love doing this.
“I’m really happy for Tyler and Robert. They have been great leaders.”
Vassar, a member of the Greater Thumb Conference West, which includes Reese and Bad Axe, was led into the final by 5-10 sophomore guard Nathan Greaves, the Vulcans’ leading scorer.
The redhead scored 11 points in the first quarter, helping the Vulcans take a 19-15 lead, and it looked like Vassar, a Class B school last season, might be on its way to its first district title since 2003.
However, New Haven switched from a man-to-man defense to a zone starting in the second quarter, and Greaves would score only six points the rest of the way.
“They went to a zone and we never recovered,” said Vassar coach Chuck Fabbro, who, like France, coaches at his alma mater.
“That was the difference,” Fabbro said. “We didn’t adjust well to the zone. We weren’t getting good shots, and we weren’t hitting the shots we did get.”
France thought a Brown City zone in a district semifinal game bothered the Vulcans, who finished with a 12-10 record.
“They played a 1-2-2 and (Vassar) didn’t look good against it,” France said. “I thought the zone took them out of their game.”
With Greaves unable to get the same looks at the basket he enjoyed in the first quarter, and Vassar turning the ball over on occasion, Smith scored nine points and sophomore Roemello Moore added five as New Haven went on a 17-7 run in the second quarter.
On their first possession of the second half, the Rockets fed the ball inside to the 6-5 Farr, whose spin move to the bucket resulted in a field goal that increased New Haven’s lead to 34-26.
Then the Rockets turned their offense over to their ballhandlers, including Smith, Moore, Rayshawn Griffin, Jamael Bell, Vantrell Williams and Tedaro France III, who spread the Vulcans defense and created more scoring chances for Farr and others.
The Rockets finished with six 3-point field goals, including two each by Griffin and the left-handed Smith.
“They’ve got a nice team,” Fabbro said. “They’ve got the two seniors and the other kids follow. They’ve got kids who can shoot the ball, and Farr is tough inside.”
Griffin scored 11 points for New Haven, which led by 18 points midway through the fourth quarter and closed the game on a 7-0 run. Bell added 10.
Greaves finished with 17 points for Vassar. Madison Harper, the Vulcans’ captain, added nine.
New Haven plays Saginaw Nouvel Catholic in a regional semifinal game at Reese on Monday.
Nouvel defeated Beaverton 52-40 in the district final at Merrill.
New Haven 15 17 17 17 -- 66
Vassar 19 7 8 11 -- 45
New Haven (16-7): Tyler Smith 16, Rayshawn Griffin 11, Tedaro France III 3, Jamael Bell 10, Roemello Moore 7, Robert Farr 19. Totals: 26 (6) 8-13 -- 66.
Vassar (12-10): Nathan Greaves 17, Brandon Peter 6, Kyle Avernhamer 3, Gavin Greer 2, Madison Harper 9, Josh Peplinski 8. Totals: 18 (2) 7-13 -- 45.