By: Seth Kinker,

The Chelsea Bulldog boys basketball team (16-7) saw their season come to an end on Mar. 5 in a regional semifinal at Milan High School against the River Rouge Panthers (20-2), 64-46.

There was nothing surprising for the Bulldogs about the Panthers play style, they’re a tall athletic team that likes to get in your face on defense and push the ball offensively with pace.

Both teams had depth, but the Panthers were able to utilize theirs as well as force many Bulldog turnovers to come away with the win. 

Two 7-2 runs split up by an and one opportunity drawn by Panther senior guard Donovan Freeman halfway through the quarter made it 14-4 in favor of the Panthers after one. Five different Panther players scored, and they had at least five different players score in each quarter. 

“I thought we needed to play an excellent game and I don’t think we did early,” said Bulldog head coach Josh Tropea, who was returning to Milan for one of the first times since he left after winning a state title in 2014. “We left some layups out there, we had some great takes we just didn’t finish. It was one of those games where we had to make open threes and we didn’t early. They had great run to start the second quarter. That put us in such a hole and we just can’t allow a run like that.” 

Panther senior guard Nigel Colvin led the Panthers with six points two three pointers after the first while Bulldog senior guard Hunter Lay had both Bulldog buckets. Lay had 12 points on the night as the second leading scorer for the Bulldogs. 

A 12-0 Panther run to start the second quarter put the Bulldogs down 22 capped off by an and one dunk from Panther senior guard Micah Parrish with 4:45 left. The Panther press caused problems for the Bulldogs all night as turnovers immediately had the Panthers looking to go straight to the basket. 

When the Bulldogs were able to get back on defense, continuous drives forced the defense to collapse and the panthers began to hit their three pointers, finishing the first half with four. 

Bulldog senior guard Quinn Starkey hit a three, Bulldog junior Adam Hauser had a three-point bucket, and junior guard Ross Stofflet hit a free throw to account for the seven Bulldog second quarter points to make it 34-11 at halftime.

Starkey would lead the Bulldogs in his final high school basketball game with 13 points. 

Out of the halftime break the Panthers outscored the Bulldogs 22-16, stretching their lead to as much as 30 before the quarter ended with the Panthers leading 56-27. The Bulldogs were led by Lay with six points in the third as they had four other players get in the scoring column as well with both second half quarters seeing more success offensively. 

“I was really proud of the kids, in the second half we came out composed,” said Tropea. “I thought we played the way we wanted to compete in the second half. Hunter Lay on the offensive glass, Hunter Neff and Nick Christian battling inside, Quinn making shots, us running in the open floor, that’s all we were asking for.” 

In the fourth quarter the Bulldogs outscored the Panthers 19-9, making the final score 65-46. 

Stofflet finished with 6 points, Hauser with 5 points, senior Nick Christian had 2 points, senior Griffin Bell had 3 points, sophomore Jordan Fansler had 2 points, and sophomore Joe Taylor had 3 points to round out the scoring for the Bulldogs. 

After the game, Tropea told The Sun Times about an emotional locker room and what the team meant to each other. 

“There were a lot of tears in there, coaches and players,” said Tropea. “The biggest message I said to them, ‘We’re crying because we love one another not because we lost the game.’ We were crying because we won’t see each other tomorrow in this capacity. If we see each other it’ll be at a spring sporting event or a dinner or something like that. We’ll never compete together again, that’s why it hurts. If we didn’t care about each other it wouldn’t hurt and we do.

“I think the best example is there’s a lot of coaches sons in there and they were crying. I told the guys ‘it’s important you understand the impact you have on other people’s lives too and how special that is, and you were able to impact others through sports.’”

This year was the first year back for Tropea, who previously coached at Chelsea for two years before taking a position at Spring Arbor before returning to Chelsea in April of 2018. When asked what he would remember most about this group, he brought up something Starkey said at the team banquet held last Saturday. 

“He spoke and what he said is how I’ll remember this team,” said Tropea. “They’ve changed the perspective for future Chelsea players. The expectation is back that we expect to beat Dexter both times. We expect to beat a Lincoln and a Jackson and we expect to win districts. That’s a huge thing. I have two sons coming up and they’ve changed their perspective on Chelsea basketball. That’ll be the legacy this group leaves, up to future groups to follow through obviously, a lot of work to do. That’s where it is right now and it’s an awesome thing.”