Ferndale Wins District Title Over City-Rival University
Senior Nate Stepney helps sends the Eagles to regionals for the first time since 1999 with 28 points on Friday night in district finals.
FERNDALE – The Ferndale boys basketball team is fine with University sharing its gym. It doesn’t mind that they share the same Eagles nickname. But the Ferndale Eagles weren’t going to let its city-rival win a district championship on the teams’ shared home court.
“Their name is Ferndale, they are also the Eagles, they even practice and use this as a home gym, but they can’t have our championship,” Ferndale coach Tom Staton said, laughing.
Ferndale senior forward Nate Stepney’s monstrous third quarter powered his team to a 66-52 win on Friday night in the district finals.
“We couldn’t let our little brothers come in our house and beat us,” Stepney said. “That wouldn’t be right.”
Stepney came out of halftime and decided he didn’t want his high school career to end just yet.
He went off on University for 16 of his 28 points in the third quarter. During the stretch, he turned a six-point deficit into 49-39 lead.
“I told him at halftime, I hit him in the shoulder real hard, and I said look it’s time for you to take over, do what you’re supposed to do captain,” Staton said.
In the first half, University used a zone defense to keep Stepney and Ferndale’s other shooters in check. Defenders were still getting to the ball in the third quarter, but Stepney just shrugged them off. He hit two 3-pointers with University players right in his face.
“We knew he was a great player and if we could keep him under control with our zone, we figured we could win the game,” University coach Andre Buford said. “He did what great players do, he had a hell of a game.”
Until Stepney scored his team’s first 12 points of the third, University was in the driver’s seat.
Sophomore Anthony Martin helped settle his team down after it fell behind early. He scored 14 points in the first half and in the second quarter scored three straight baskets to send University into halftime tied 29-29.
A 3-pointer from Ivan Cameron with 4:24 left in the third gave University its biggest lead of the game at 37-31 before Stepney swung the momentum back in his team’s favor.
In the fourth, Stepney helped keep Ferndale up by double-digits from the free line. The senior went 5-of-6 from the line in the finals eight minutes.
“My young guys pulled us in close,” Buford said. “We executed my zone like I told them to and gave us an opportunity to win.”
The University basketball team is only in its fifth year of existence and this was the second time they’ve reached the district finals. Buford has a lot of talent coming back next season and said he’s confident they’ll be back next season.
For Ferndale, it was the school’s first district championship since 1999.
“I got one up there, I told the guys, you need to bring one home,” Staton said, referring to the district title he won as a player for Ferndale back in 1972.
Earlier in the season, Staton was so confident in his squad that he promised Ferndale principal Herb Ivory a title.
Ivory is retiring this year and the two have a long history together. Ivory was the first African American coach in the Ferndale school system back in the early ‘70s. Staton was his very first captain.
“He’s my mentor, Staton said, smiling. “I had to bring him this championship. This one is pretty sweet.”
Ferndale advances to the Livonia Clarenceville regional for a game against Dearborn Heights Robichaud on Monday night at 7:30 p.m.