By George Pohly
@GPohly on Twitter
Ashton Sherrell’s transformation from bit player to starter helped New Haven make boys basketball history.
The 6-foot-7 junior scored eight points and took 11 rebounds to help the Rockets defeat Detroit Osborn 73-66 in a state Class B quarterfinal game at Marysville on Tuesday night.
It was New Haven’s first quarterfinal victory, following four losses since the school won its first regional championship in 1990, and sent the Rockets into a 6 p.m. Friday state semifinal against Benton Harbor at the Breslin Center.
“He has been a key guy,” New Haven coach Tedaro France II said of Sherrell. “He makes plays. He rebounds. He’s got great hands.”
New Haven at times uses Sherrell to initiate its half-court offense. He has been adept at finding a teammate like 6-5 Eric Williams Jr. cutting down the baseline for an easy bucket.
“He’s a great passer in the high post,” France said.
Sherrell had six points in the second quarter as the Rockets outscored Osborn 21-17 for a 34-26 lead, and he sank two free throws in the third quarter to push New Haven’s lead to 37-29.
Last season, his first with New Haven, Sherrell averaged less than four minutes per game. Now he’s a starter for a team that is 25-1 overall and has won 24 games in a row.
“He has worked hard in the weight room and in practice,” France said. “He’s that glue guy that each good team needs to win.
“I’m proud of him for how far he has come in one year.”
Tickets are $8 apiece for both Class B semifinals at the Breslin Center. Following the New Haven-Benton Harbor game, River Rouge plays Ludington at 7:50 p.m.
Games like New Haven’s quarterfinal against Osborn were what France had in mind when he scheduled the Rockets to play their final regular-season game at Flint Beecher.
New Haven won the Feb. 28 contest 108-104 in triple overtime, defeating a power that is still in contention for the state Class C championship.
“That gave us experience for games like this one,” France said after the victory over Osborn.
New Haven trailed on a couple of occasions late in the third quarter against the Knights, and they were down 53-52 when Osborn scored the first point of the fourth quarter.
“We kept fighting,” France said. “It wasn’t even close to our best game, but it’s March. It shows me what kind of team we are.”
New Haven defeated Beecher despite losing three starters who fouled out.
“That was a great test for us,” said France, who thought the trip to Flint would benefit the Rockets win or lose.
“To me, it was a win-win situation,” France said. “If we win, it’s great for momentum heading into the (state) tournament. If we lose, it’s something to fire us up.”
More from Moore
William Moore is often employed as a New Haven defensive specialist.
One of his playing stints against Osborn came late in the third quarter when the Rockets were trying to cool off Knights guard Armonee Felter, who made two of his team’s four 3-pointers that came in the first six minutes of the period.
Moore contributed a 3-pointer of his own, a shot from the right corner that gave New Haven a 48-44 lead with 1:59 left. The game was tied 52-all entering the fourth quarter.
France saluted New Haven fans who helped create a standing-room-only crowd at Marysville.
“Our fans are great,” the coach said. “They’ve supported us since day one. They are our sixth man. They travel. They’re loud. They’re intense. It’s great to know our kids are loved.”
The fourth quarter of New Haven’s victory over Osborn gave the crowd at Marysville thrills and chills.
After Ken Holloway’s free throw opened the scoring and gave Osborn a 53-52 lead, New Haven’s Romeo Weems went coast-to-coast for a layup and a 54-53 Rocket lead. Then New Haven missed four consecutive free throws, and Williams split a pair of foul shots for a 55-53 lead with 6:49 to play.
James Lloyd and Holloway made the next two baskets for Osborn, both on stick-backs. Meanwhile, A.J. Crawford III sank three of four free throws, and he assisted on a bucket by Ronald Jeffery Jr. as the Rockets took a 60-57 lead.
After each team turned the ball over, Osborn senior Jamarria Hall banked in a 3-pointer and Williams answered with a triple that gave New Haven a 63-60 lead with 2:59 to play. Holloway scored again, and Weems set up another basket, this time with a pass to Jeffery. It was 65-62 for New Haven with 2:34 left, but four seconds later Weems fell to the floor with a left leg cramp.
The sight of Weems receiving treatment was familiar to New Haven fans who had feared for the 6-6 sophomore’s health when he stepped on another player’s foot and tweaked an ankle during the regional championship victory over Notre Dame Prep.
After an Osborn turnover with 1:55 left, Weems re-entered the game with the Rockets leading 66-62, but New Haven missed three of four free throws and Felder made his final basket of the game to pull the Knights to within two. A moment before Felder’s bucket, Weems blocked a shot and the Rockets took off for a fast break that was wiped out by a charging call drawn by Felder on Williams at mid-court. When Holloway scored with 55 seconds to play, it was 67-66 in favor of New Haven.
Twenty-two seconds later, Crawford changed New Haven’s fortunes at the line by making two foul shots for a three-point lead. But Felder was to be heard from again. The senior guard’s shot was grabbed by Sherrell, but Felder immediately stole the ball and hoisted a 3-point attempt that missed the mark.
In the scrum for the rebound of Felder’s shot, a jump ball was called, and the possession arrow pointed in Osborn’s favor. The Knights were unable to convert.
Jeffery’s bucket with 18 seconds left gave New Haven a 71-66 lead. Osborn failed to score on its next possession and then fouled with 8.4 seconds to play. This time, Jeffery missed two free throws, but the sophomore guard chased down his own rebound, was fouled with 4.9 seconds left and sank a pair of free throws for the final margin.