By CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — FRANKFORT — It's a good thing Frankfort and Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart aren't having a popularity contest.
If they were, Frankfort would be in trouble.
Sacred Heart enters tonight's Class D boys basketball quarterfinal game at Cadillac High School after a whirlwind week where the Irish became a national internet and media sensation following Dustin Neyer's circus shot at the buzzer broke a 47-47 tie in last week's regional final game with Fulton. The play was aired as a top play on Sportscenter and on Fox Sports One and the You Tube video of the incredible finish went viral.
But now the Irish (20-3) have to put all that hoopla behind them and focus on Frankfort (19-6), which is seeking its first trip to the state semifinals since 1969.
Frankfort coach Reggie Manville doesn't think Sacred Heart will have any trouble regaining its focus.
"It probably would be (hard) if they had a one or two day break, but they've had a few days now to regroup," Manville said. "I'm sure they were flying high. I'm sure they're going to be ready."
Of utmost concern for the Panthers is the height advantage Sacred Heart will have in 6-foot-6 Brooks Hyble and 6-foot-4 Kevin Gamble Jr.
"We're concerned over the height," said Manville. "We've a very small team. David Loney is 6-foot-3. Mason (Loney) is 6-foot-1. That's about it. We've compensated for that by really doing a great job boxing out and doing a good job on the boards. We've only been beaten on the boards a few times. We've played some big teams."
The one thing Frankfort has going for it is experience. The Panthers are making their second consecutive trip to the quarterfinals, having lost to Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian 57-33 last season, but have all but one player back from that squad.
"I think what we have going for us this year is we've gone through this with the same core of players. They were all on the team last year when we lost to Tri-Unity. They were freshmen and sophomores and this year they're juniors and sophomores," said Manville.
That includes junior forward David Loney, who is coming off a 28-point, 17-rebound performance in Wednesday's 90-47 regional championship win over Au Gres.
"Having that experience is priceless," said Manville. "You don't have that fear of the unknown. Sometimes you do when you're a program that hasn't been there before. Even in practice I can tell the kids have confidence.
"We've been on a roll. Our best basketball has been in the last month. If we play the way we've played in the last month we'll be fine. If we continue to play tough defense, hold the other team between 46-50 points we know we're going to be there."
Unlike Frankfort, East Jordan won't be able to rely on the experience of playing in the quarterfinals. The last time the school reached this point was 1953.
Standing in the Red Devils' path to the semifinals is third-ranked Negaunee (23-1), which is in the quarterfinal round for the fourth straight year and was a semifinalist last year.
"This will probably, of all the teams we've played, be our toughest challenge," said East Jordan coach Darrin Weber, whose team already owns a win over a top-five team in the postseason when it defeated No. 4 Boyne City in the district finals. "They've got some pretty good size and they've got the guard, Tyler Jandron, who was the U.P. Player of the Year. They'll pose a different challenge than any team we've faced."
Jandron leads the Miners in scoring, and along with backcourt mate Eric Lori gives the Upper Peninsula juggernaut a solid duo on the perimeter. Inside, Negaunee has 6-foot-5 senior Zane Radloff and 6-foot-3 sophomore Jay Lori, giving the Miners an interior presence the perimeter-oriented Red Devils lack.
East Jordan has been able to overcome its lack of size this season by playing an up-tempo style with talented guards who can knock down jumpers from the outside. Noah Bacchus has delivered some clutch shots, particularly in the postseason, drilling buzzer-beaters in a district win over Charlevoix and again in a 55-53 overtime victory against Beaverton in last week's regional final. The Red Devils also have been able to lean on Donny Cutler and Jordan Weber when they've been called upon to step up in key moments.
"I think we can play with a lot of teams. Obviously we need a few things to go our way. We have to do a great job on the boards and we have to knock down some perimeter shots," said Darrin Weber.
Cadillac and Big Rapids are squaring off in a rematch of a Class B quarterfinal game the Vikings won 41-29 last season. Cadillac (18-6) is making its fourth straight appearance in the quarterfinals, capturing its latest regional title, 46-42, over Mason County Central. The last remaining team from the Big North Conference is led by senior guard Jalen Brooks, a four-year letterwinner for the Vikings, who scored a team-high 21 in the win over Mason County Central.
Big Rapids (21-4) disposed of Saginaw Swan Valley to get another shot at the Vikings.