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When it comes to basketball rivalries in Macomb County, New Haven vs. Mount Clemens is one of the best.
For several seasons, the two schools battled for supremacy in the Macomb Area Conference Gold Division, then took their rivalry to the state playoffs where they often met for a Class C district title. Mount Clemens moved up to the MAC Blue this year and won the division title. New Haven took the MAC Gold.
“You can take the records away, you can take the stats away. This is a true rivalry game,” said Rockets coach Tedaro France II after his team remained undefeated Friday with a hard-earned 51-43 victory against the Bathers before a packed gym in the MIPrepZone.com/Macomb -Macomb Daily Game of the Week.
“We had a slow start because we get so worked up for this game. It takes time for the kids to calm down and get into the flow. My kids made plays down the stretch to win this game. We’re always going to get teams’ best, but my kids seem to find a way to win.”
Mount Clemens coach Willie Betts was pleased with the Bathers’ performance.
“We came here to play,” said Betts. “We showed New Haven we came to play. Down the stretch we had some turnovers that cost us the game. We’re still learning. We haven’t been in a big fight like that. It’s our first one and I think they did a darn good job.
“We’ll take the next game, take a step up and get ready for the district. Overall, it was a good job — a very well-played game.”
There were several ties and lead changes in a first half that ended with the Bathers leading 21-18 on baskets by Devin Felts and Destin Jones in the final two minutes. Mount Clemens started the second half the same way it finished the first and with 3:20 left in the third quarter the Bathers stretched their lead to 31-20 after consecutive layups by Josh Mills and Felts.
That set the stage for another of the Rockets’ patented runs. A putback by Dmonta Harris triggered a 16-0 spurt that was capped by a 3-point basket by Harris. Harris, who finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, had seven points in the run.
As usual, Harris did most of his offensive damage in the second half, scoring 13 points after the break.
Harris said that the Rockets don’t feel extra pressure from being 19-0 with one regular-season game remaining.
“We know we’re undefeated. We know we’re ranked, but we tell ourselves we haven’t won anything yet,” he said. “The big title is in the playoffs. We won the regular season games but we have to show what we’re made of in the playoffs.”
Harris said that Friday’s game was one of the toughest the Rockets have played this season.
“Warren Woods-Tower (an overtime win) was the toughest but this took a lot of drive and energy because it’s a rivalry game,” he said. “The intensity and atmosphere was different tonight. It was a great win for us.”
Mount Clemens wouldn’t let New Haven relax after its third-quarter spurt put the Rockets ahead 36-31. The Bathers regained the lead with six straight points, five by Daniel Miller. A 3-pointer by Harris put New Haven back in front. The game was tied at 41-all with 4:06 to play after two free throws by Felts.
A basket by Austin Sherrell put the Rockets ahead to stay and Jerry Ben followed with a layup for a 45-41 lead with three minutes to go.
“We got down by 11 in the third quarter but there was never a doubt that we were going to win this game,” France said. “In the huddle the kids were saying ‘we’re not going to lose this game.’ That’s the will and the heart these kids show. Mount Clemens played a tough, tough game. They’re a scrappy team. They slowed us down with their zones, but we were patient and found gaps and made plays down the stretch.
“This is the type of game we’re going to be in when March comes. It’s a big test for us. What better game than two league champs playing.”
Sherrell finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. John Galloway had 11 points and five rebounds for the Rockets.
Felts led Mount Clemens with 15 points and Miller had 13. Jones and Justice Stubbs grabbed seven rebounds apiece. Miller had four assists.