TRAVERSE CITY -- A memorable run for Suttons Bay just picked up a little bit of history.
The Norsemen clinched their first regional basketball championship since 1982 on Wednesday with an 80-60 victory over Mason County Central in the Class C final at Traverse City West.
"All week we were preparing, trying to put our mark on our school," Suttons Bay senior Chase Palmer said. "It's a big deal to us. As you can see, it's a big deal to our school. We had a lot of people supporting us."
Suttons Bay moved its winning streak to 23 games and its overall record to 23-1. The Norse will now take on a 23-1 Rudyard squad on Tuesday in the Class C state quarterfinals.
"The U.P. plays some basketball and we're going to have to be ready to play well," Norsemen coach Todd Hursey said.
The two teams scrimmaged before the regular season started.
"I can't even describe it," Norsemen senior David Wheelock said of winning the regional. "It's priceless. At the beginning of the year there were all these expectations. I'm just happy. These are the best group of guys I've ever played with. It just so happens we all love basketball. Going to practice every day is like hanging out with friends."
Mason County Central hit the opening basket of the fourth quarter on a David Soraci drive to cut Suttons Bay's lead to 56-54.
But then it was all Norse. Suttons Bay closed the game on a 24-6 run, thanks to 12 points from Dwaun Anderson.
"That's pretty much my role," Anderson said. "It's what I have to do, even if I feel like I can't. I've always got to push myself for my best. Tonight, I didn't think we came out good enough, so I had to turn it on."
Anderson was also key in a second-quarter run that gave the Norsemen momentum going into the half. The Spartans built a 29-23 advantage with Anderson on the bench with two fouls, but he returned for the last three minutes. He immediately drove the baseline and threw down a one-handed dunk from underneath the basket.
"I knew when I got my second (foul) I was going to come back in," Anderson said. "We needed to pick it up. When I came in I knew I had to bring some energy, so I had to get a dunk."
The rest of his teammates picked up the momentum as Suttons Bay closed the half on a 12-0 run for a 37-32 lead.
The third quarter became an up-tempo contest and both teams found a comfort zone beyond the 3-point arc. Wheelock led the charge for Suttons Bay with 11 third-quarter points, including three 3-pointers.
"I've always been told I'm a shooter, so I've got to keep shooting," Wheelock said. "It just so happened I got a bunch of open looks in the second half. Dwaun, Shane and Noah (Reyhl) did a really good job of taking my defender away. It wasn't going to happen without them."
It was 37-32 Suttons Bay going into the fourth, but the lead was quickly extended.
"Our game plan was to try to make sure they could never get in a rhythm," Spartans coach Jeff Tuka said. "We tried to switch the defenses up as much as possible, just so they never got comfortable and couldn't run anything they run in practice everyday. We said if we can do that and be close at the end of each quarter, we'd have a fighting chance."
After starting the game in its full-court press, Suttons Bay switched to a 1-3-1 zone that paid off in the second quarter and again in the second half.
"That was the answer tonight," Hursey said. "Our guys believe in that. They played aggressive and it took away some of their ability. They kept going by us. We knew they were 3-point shooters, but I thought they got a lot of good looks inside. That zone was able to take away the penetration."
"It was great because we're not big, but we're long," Wheelock said of the zone. "That allows us to use our length and our wingspan. Trying to pass over Chase in the middle or Dwaun up top is nearly impossible. It worked to perfection."
Anderson led the Norse with 27 points, 12 rebounds and two assists. Wheelock had 17 points, Palmer scored 11 to go with nine rebounds and Jared Orban added 10 points.
"As always, Dwaun is our best player, but we've had other guys step up all season long," Hursey said.
The Spartans had 23 points, four assists and two steals from Jared Lauber while Mitch Young and Tyler Companion each had nine points. Dan Deller pulled down seven rebounds.
Mason County Central finished the season with an 8-16 record, but Tuka -- the team's first-year coach -- was proud of his team's run.
"I couldn't be mad at these guys if they walked back to Scottville," Tuka said. "To come from what we were, to make a run like this, they took our community on a ride for two weeks. It made everybody feel great.
"We play in an extremely tough league. It's a B, C league. And all of those games and tough losses prepared us for a team like Suttons Bay. We felt we were well prepared for a team like this that's so talented, because it's nothing new. We've seen it before. But I'd have to say, this is the best all-around team we've seen all year."