Trojans end Jets’ dream run

KINGSFORD – The North Central girls couldn’t find an answer for Lexi Gussert and her teammates Thursday night as they dropped a 73-38 basketball decision to the third-ranked Forest Park Trojans in a Class D regional final.

Gussert, despite missing her first six shots from the field, finished with 36 points.

The junior center was among 10 players to score for Forest Park (23-1), which meets top-ranked St. Ignace (24-0) in a state quarterfinal contest Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Escanaba.

“I started cold, but I think people forget I have a great team behind me,” said Gussert. “Our team really stepped up tonight. We can’t win without them (teammates).”

Gussert finished the tournament with 75 points, including 39 in a 65-25 rout of Lake Linden-Hubbell Tuesday night.

“It was good to experience that atmosphere in the first game before playing a more physical team tonight,” said Gussert. “I want to give credit to North Central. They did a lot of great things. They have experienced post players. We knew if we could shut them down, we had a pretty good chance.”

The Trojans primarily used a zone defense, which appeared to cause problems for the Jets.

“Our goal is always to attack the basket,” said Jets’ coach Nikki Laurila. “But every shot we take has to be a good shot, and we were rushing our shots. We weren’t waiting for our rebounders. We always look for layups, close shots or open shots with board coverage. We did none of that. I think mentally we struggled a little bit, and some of that may have been nerves. This was an off night for us. The problem with that is you can’t have an off night in tournaments.”

Gussert’s shooting and passing compounded the Jets’ problems as she began to find the range late in the first quarter and distributed the ball effectively, setting up scoring chances for her teammates.

“We weren’t worried when Lexi started 0-for-6,” said Forest Park coach Jeff Syrjanen. “We knew she wasn’t going to finish 0-for-6. She’s too good a shooter for that to happen.”

The Trojans sank 12 shots from 3-point range, including eight by Gussert.

North Central led briefly in the first quarter and trailed 13-11 heading into the second.

Gussert, however, drained a pair of jump shots from top of the key to start the second stanza to put the Trojans up 19-11.

“We took the ball inside, hoping to get her (Gussert) in foul trouble,” said Laurila. “We just had to know where she was at. We had to communicate and stay tight with her. We wanted her tired at the end of the game. That was it. At times we didn’t do it. We lost track of her.”

Forest Park extended its advantage to 33-20 at halftime prior to outscoring the Jets 23-7 in the third frame.

“We’ve been a pretty strong third-quarter team,” said Syrjanen. “Our plan was to get on them quick and we put heavy defensive pressure on them right away. We knew if we could get a lead on them early, we could wear them down. After all this is the regional tournament. You have to perform here. Ten players scoring in the regional final is pretty good. Usually, nobody (except Gussert) scores more than 7-8 points because we rotate players so much.”

Junior Samantha Nylund added seven points in a reserve role for Forest Park, which had 17 turnovers.

The Jets, who committed 15 of their 18 turnovers in the first half, were led by junior center Morgan Wells with eight points.