Deep, athletic Vikings await upstart Braves in regional

GRAYLING This afternoon, the Gladstone Braves will hit the road as they hope to continue their playoff run against the Grayling Vikings in the Class B regional semifinal.

Gladstone has been idle since its district championship victory over The Menominee Maroons Wednesday. However, they have not forgotten what they have accomplished, nor the goal that lies ahead.

“I’m very proud how we’ve come together as a team,” said Braves coach Phil Griebel. “Winning the district was a goal we wrote down in the locker room early in the year. They decided to work their butts off and get that accomplished. They are proud, but they know the season isn’t over yet and we have an opportunity to go down there and continue.”

Throughout the regular season, the Braves (11-11) had trouble finding consistency from game to game, and there were times where they appeared to lack energy. But over the course of the playoffs, the team has shifted away from that completely. They are a team that is playing as a unit, from the bench to the starters.

“I don’t think it was any one person, it was everyone together,” Griebel said. “When the season was over, we decided that this is the one thing we have left, and everyone decided collectively to get it done. You could see it in their eyes in practice. You could feel the intensity.”

He added that their effectiveness on the defensive end, especially in the zone, has helped them to force turnovers and turn it into offense.

“We were also able to get comfortable running our stuff offensively,” he said. “They are focused and they are playing hard, and good things are happening as a result.”

Gladstone has had a chance to see some footage of Grayling (18-5), and Griebel said he doesn’t expect them to be a pushover by any means.

“They’re quick and athletic, he said. “But I think if we come with the same attitude we’ve had the past few games, I think we’ll be fine.”

Grayling coach Rich Moffit has also had a chance to see a little video footage of the Braves, and he said he has a lot of respect for what they were able to do in the districts.

“They are a very talented team,” Moffit said. “When you look at how they played at the end of the year, they are doing a lot of positive things. I’m impressed with how they did. How can you not get pumped up for them watching that district final game? They showed some real character.”

The Vikings defeated the Ogemaw Heights Falcons 64-53 Friday night to advance to the regional opener. When it came to their reasons for success over the season, Moffit also said it wasn’t just one or two big players that led them here.

“We have a pretty balanced attack,” he said. “Our bench has provided us with a real spark as well. A lot of the time, we will have played 10 kids within the first two or three minutes of a game.”

Like Griebel, Moffit also pointed to the defensive end as one of his team’s staples. But he also said that the height of competition in their conference also says a lot about their group.

“Our league is brutal,” he said. “Totally smash-mouth. But we’ve won games defensively with our pressure. I would say that is one of our fortes. We’ve forced teams to around 27 turnovers a game.”

Senior Scott Parkinson leads the Vikings in scoring with 13.2 points per game, but the team has four players that average in double figures.

“We are by committee,” Moffit said. “they are obviously excited about winning the district, but they are looking forward to the next challenge as well.”

In Class D tonight, North Central (20-3) will take on Superior Central (16-7) in the regional semifinal at Negaunee beginning at 6 p.m. On the other side of the bracket, Chassel will take on Forest Park at 7:30 p.m. with the winners of each game facing off Wednesday.

North Central defeated North Dickinson 54-40 to win their district Friday night while Superior Central eliminated Engadine 66-51.