Jets kick it into overtime overdrive, win title
ESCANABA – Overtime is the right time for North Central.
The Jets (25-0) dug deep for their second straight overtime victory in this Class D regional, and after beating Forest Park 58-55 Wednesday night, they’re now celebrating their second straight regional title.
When the stakes are high, this team goes into overtime overdrive.
“We battled a lot of adversity tonight from Jason Whitens going down early, battling a thigh injury from Monday, and Travis Vincent didn’t have a very good first half, but in the second half he came through in the clutch. Tyler Polfus hit some big baskets,” said North Central head coach Adam Mercier.
When all this is done and Mercier and the Jets think back on what they’ve accomplished they will realize that they have beaten Mid Peninsula, North Dickinson, Carney-Nadeau and now Forest Park three times this season. They have beaten three of the top five teams in the final UPSSA poll in consecutive games, and top-five team No. 4 is Tuesday night when the Jets will take on Cedarville at Marquette.
“This is the gauntlet, and we’re battle tested from our conference, from our district and from this regional. It’s very similar to last year,” said Mercier.
This one was as good as advertised and fitting of a regional final. Throughout the game, the largest lead by either team was five points after Josh Granquist sank one of two free throws in the third quarter to give North Central a 32-27 lead.
Austin Snell, the Trojans (20-4) quick three-point shooting specialist, sank a gem to open the fourth quarter and the Trojans led 35-34. Shortly after, Rob Granquist picked up his fourth foul, and 6-foot-7 big man Austin Carlson followed with a lay-in to put the Trojans up three.
There would be no Jason Whitens to save North Central this time. Dealing with a hip injury he suffered in overtime Monday night, Whitens appeared to slip on the court in the second quarter, and hobbled off the court. Later in the fourth quarter, Whitens came back out on the court but appeared to bang his knee going to the net. He was held scoreless for the game.
So who else but Travis Vincent, Rob Granquist and Trevor Ekberg to carry the Jets?
Vincent and Granquist were without a point in the first half and the only two players that scored for North Central were Ekberg and Caleb Martin.
Ekberg was on a tear from the start, scoring the Jets first eight points of the game and starting 6-for-6 from the floor. He unleashed a dazzling array of spin moves, pump fakes and motion fakes and received a few nice assists from Josh Granquist to total a career-high 25 points, and the Jets needed every one of them.
North Central rebounded from that three point deficit early in the fourth and caught a break near the end of the quarter when Carlson picked up his fifth foul.
“Oh my, that took so much away from our defense,” said Forest Park head coach Chris Nocerini. “He did put a presence on the big guys when they were down in there. It hurt us when he was done, but he’s not done forever, he’s a junior.”
Carlson used his big frame to clog up the middle, haul down rebounds and drive in for layups. His absence paid almost immediate dividends for the Jets.
First, the Trojans re-gained a three-point advantage on a spin move and basket from Daniel Nocerini that drew a foul, which was good.
But Travis Vincent answered right back with just his third field goal of the night, and the foul – good, to tie the game back up. Raymond Tomasik hit a big tip-in and down at the other end Ekberg hit two big free throws to tie the game at 44 with 40 seconds remaining.
Forest Park then elected to run down the clock and called a time out with 23 seconds remaining. They continued to drain clock for one shot to win it, but that backfired when Forest Park’s Jeff Johnson was called for an offensive foul, giving the Jets the ball with 2.5 seconds and the length of the court to go.
The inbounds pass was picked off, sending the game to overtime. That suited Nocerini just fine.
“The issues we’ve had the past two meetings, is we’ve lost control with four minutes to go, and I was very happy we were tied up with two minutes to go,” he said. “Anytime you’re playing a team that’s as good as North Central – and I’m going to put us up there too, we’re just as good as them. That game went down to the final possession. Any time you’re in a ball game and two teams are very good, you’re happy. We had an opportunity to win it and it didn’t go our way.”
In the overtime period, the teams traded buckets and free throws to tie the score at 53, when Ekberg hit his final points, finding himself open for a clutch three-pointer that went in.
Nocerini quickly scored at the other end to draw within one, and Rob Granquist was sent to the line for North Central, and hit them both. The Jets had a 58-55 lead with 15 seconds and the Trojans had the ball.
They drew up a play and got the ball to Snell who put up an off-balance three-pointer from the top of the key that missed the mark. The Trojans got the rebound and got the ball back to Snell on the other side of the rim but his second attempt from deep was defended well by Josh Granquist and hit the rim and bounced out as the buzzer sounded.
“Trevor made that shot, we came down and I told the kids I’m going to throw in this play just in case. We ran it and Granquist did an awesome job going over the top of the picks, and he beat Austin to the spot.
“My son told me, ‘Dad I could have stepped out, but it would have been a cheap screen’, and I said, no Dan you did the right thing, and we left enough time on the clock to get one more shot, and they gave us one more shot. So the opportunities were there, we just fell short, and we’re going to keep trying to get it.
“I’m not disappointed in the game or my kids’ performances one bit. I never thought as a coach that we’d ever see this basketball program get to 20 wins and we did it this year. It’s a great trampoline if some of these guys want to get on and jump the rest of the way with us. But we’ll see. I want to get back here.”
Three of the Trojans’ four losses this season were to North Central.
Vincent finished with 11 points, all in the second half. Martin added nine for the Jets and Rob Granquist had eight points. The Jets had 20 turnovers to the Trojans’ 13.
Carlson led the way for Forest Park with 16 points. Lee Graff added 13 and Snell scored nine.
Cedarville (22-2) defeated Hillman 63-57 Wednesday night in their regional final and will face the Jets in a rematch of last season’s state quarterfinal, Tuesday night at Marquette High School.