By MIKE ECKERT
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The third time was the charm for Traverse City Central.
After getting swept by rival and Big North Conference tri-champion Traverse City West during league play, the Trojans got revenge on Monday with a 42-39 win over the host Titans in the Class A district opener.
Central (6-15) moves on to play at Marquette on Wednesday.
"We've been through a lot of tough games," Trojans coach Jeff Turner said. "For the kids to keep fighting and put themselves in this position, that says a lot about their character, their belief in the program and their belief in me. Nobody's quit on us and they're still fighting. It's outstanding."
Central senior Ethan Pilarski was on varsity two years ago when the Trojans last beat West — also in the district opener. Monday's win, though, was the biggest one of his career.
"It feels great, especially in a rivalry like this," Pilarski said. "That always makes it feel good."
For West (12-9), the loss came after the Titans held a 15-6 first quarter lead. But West struggled on offense the rest of the way.
"I don't know what to say," West coach Brett Graham said. "I love my seniors and they've been great all year. They deserve to keep playing. But that's the great thing and the terrible thing about the tournament."
Pilarski said Central was too jumpy to start the game, and Turner settled them down after the first quarter.
"I can't take any credit for that, it all falls on the kids," Turner said. "I just told them they weren't playing the way we coached them to play. We were down nine, so I told them our goal at halftime was to be down five. We got a whole lot closer than that."
Within the first 90 seconds of the second quarter, Central had cut the lead to 15-13, thanks to a 3-pointer from Taylor Cook and buckets off a pair of Titan turnovers. The lead stayed the same through the half, but the Trojans opened the third quarter with six straight points for a 25-21 lead they never surrendered.
The teams traded free throws in the fourth quarter to keep it close. Colin Lesoski knocked down a huge free throw with 13 seconds left to give the Trojans a 42-39 lead and force the Titans to go for a 3-pointer. Jeremiah Williams got two attempts at the game-tying shot, but came up short both times.
"That changed the complexity of the game, because they couldn't set back and drive," Turner said of Lesoski's free throw. "Jeremiah was getting whatever he wanted all night long. But (Lesoski) is a gamer for us. What you see in games is what you see in practice. He goes that hard all the time. He's our unspoken leader and kids follow his lead."
Lesoski was one of several role players with a big night for the Trojans.
"Our role players, the kids coming off the bench, they've really developed an understanding for what their role is," Turner said. "Mitchell Wynkoop was a huge example. He came in and made an immediate impact with his presence. Max Knoblock did, too. He didn't do stat things, but he was diving on the floor, working hard and putting himself in a good position. And Zach Egbert has continually gotten better as the season has progressed."
Tanner Kenney had 10 points for Central, Wynkoop had nine points, Pilarski had nine points and four steals while Cook had seven points and Lesoski added five rebounds.
For West, Williams' career came to a close with a big night. He finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and four steals.
"He put us on his back there again in the fourth quarter," Graham said. "He gave us a chance to win it down the stretch."
Turner said his team can't savor the win for too long with a trip to Marquette looming on Wednesday.
"Our kids are pretty ecstatic right now," he said. "We told them to enjoy it tonight, because tomorrow a bunch of our juniors have to take the ACT test. And then we've got to hit the floor for practice."