March Madness finally arrives. Let the banners be unfurled.
For the first time in school history, Saint Clair County Community College will progress to the nation junior college championships.
The Skippers defeated the Henry Ford Hawks, 83-78, at Mott Community College on Saturday, March 6 in their third consecutive tournament victory.
“Our team kept together and kept battling,” SC4 Coach Dale Vos said. “We may have led down the stretch but we trailed a lot of different times during the game. After leading 80-71, we find ourselves down 80-78. Yet, we found a way.”
The lead changed hands numerous times throughout the game. With minutes remaining, the Hawks sparked a seven point run to cut the Skippers lead to two. SC4’s Kieon Arkwright dropped three of four free throws to put the game out of reach in the final minute.
“After they cut the lead to two,” Vos said, “Kieon grabbed a big rebound. We then grabbed one, lost it, and Kieon pulled it away. Then Marquis Lee grabbed another big one, all in the last minute.
“These are small guys by basketball standards. They just went up and seized the initiative.”
Arkwright was named tournament Most Valuable Player. Eric Mack, Jr. was named to the All-Tournament team.
“I couldn’t have been MVP without the help of my teammates,” Arkwright said. “This is more than an MVP, it’s a team award.”
On his last minutes heroics, Arkwright added, “I knew if we wanted to get to the nationals, I needed to make the extra effort to bring the guys home. I wanted to come through for them.”
Vos, who has been named All-Tournament as well as MCCAA Eastern Conference Coach of the Year, acknowledged the team had to overcome a lack of team height if not heart.
“At one of our last pre-season meetings,” Vos said, “I told the guys that unless the next coming of Shaquille O’Neal walks into the room, this is your team. We’re not very big so you are going to have to overcome that. So start thinking right now how much effort that will take.”
Arkwright led the Skippers with 26 points and six rebounds. Marquis Lee added 18 points and Mack, Jr. 16 points in the Skippers’ victory.
The road to the championship began the prior Tuesday with an 84-75 victory over the Kirtland Firebirds.
To get to the finals, SC4 defeated the Oakland Raiders, 78-73. Despite leading by 13 at the half, the Skippers were forced to scramble to pull out the win. Mack led the scoring with 20 points while Arkwright added 14.
“With four or five minutes left I thought we’re going to lose this one because we can’t make any free throws,” Vos said. “I am proud of our kids for the way they answered their runs and closed the game out.
“Give Oakland credit. They made adjustments and came out in the second half and jammed the ball inside. We weren’t able to do a good job of stopping that. We let them tie it but I don’t believe we let them take the lead.”
To set up the championship, Henry Ford defeated last year’s National Championship team, the hometown Mott Bears, by one point. Mott had the Skippers’ number this year with two defeats over SC4. Some say fate is unstoppable. Sometimes you’re just in the zone.