SUTTONS BAY — Playing in its own house, Suttons Bay shot the lights out.
The gym lights dimmed noticeably right after the 54-47 Class D district final victory Friday over Traverse City Christian.
Perhaps that’s what happens when you hit 11 straight free throws in crunch time to lock up the school’s first district title since the 2009-10 season.
“That was incredible,” Norsemen coach Ron Anderson said. “With the pressure the kids were facing, it’s a testament to the kids’ concentration level.”
After starting the season 3-11, Suttons Bay (10-12) advances to play Bellaire (22-0) on Monday at Traverse City Central. Tip-off is slated for 7:30 p.m.
The Norse knocked down 12 of 13 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter, holding off Christian’s charges.
“After watching them play Leland Wednesday night, we knew this wasn’t going to be an easy game,” Anderson said. “We had to come out and earn it. And we earned it at the free-throw line.”
With Aaron Orban sitting most of the first half with early foul trouble, Logan Mikesell’s 3-pointer with one second left in the opening half gave the Norse their biggest lead at 24-18.
“Our team really stepped up, hitting their shots and playing defense — without me or Adam Arroyo in there,” Orban said. “That really says something about our defense and how composed we are.”
And with Orban back in the lineup, Suttons Bay started the second half quickly, going on a 10-2 run capped by another Mikesell triple.
Christian rallied with its own run, reeling off a 15-2 run in the late third and early fourth to get within a point on Jesse Heerdt’s dunk with 4:18 remaining. That’s when Suttons Bay started making free throws with regularity, hitting 11 in a row, including four each from Orban and Cameron Tarlton.
“We couldn’t quite get over the hump,” Sabres coach Greg Farmer said. “Every time we made a run and got back at them, they would make a big play. You’ve got to hand it to Suttons Bay.
“They knocked down other shots, too. I haven’t seen them shoot as well as they shot. We didn’t think they could shoot that well from the outside, and they knocked down quite a few shots in that run when they got the big lead. I’ve got to hand it to them; they came up big when they needed to.”
Without their leading scorer for all but two minutes of the first half, Suttons Bay still managed to take a 24-18 lead into halftime.
“Numbers may not show it, but Dillon Cornett, his play on Kris Crosby was excellent,” Anderson said. “Stepping in when Aaron had two early fouls, Kris didn’t get a lot of easy shots off. Also, Casey Cross was smart on the defensive end. He does so much for us in the open floor. He’s finally settling into the role as a defensive player.”
Cross had nine points and three steals, including a pair in the fourth quarter that translated directly into five Norse points.
With Suttons Bay up 38-35, he stripped the ball away and drove the length of the court for a three-point play with 2:51 to go, and he picked off an inbound pass with 38.2 ticks remaining that was converted into a pair of Tarlton free throws and a 51-41 bulge.
Guy Beachnau added eight points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, Tarlton had 11 points and seven assists and Mikesell finished with 11 points. Orban put up 13 points and eight boards in limited minutes.
“When people are knocking down their shots, other people get confidence and start knocking down their shots,” Orban said.
Crosby led the Sabres with 16 points and four rebounds, while Paul Bump had 12 points, three assists and four rebounds, David Bump added 10 points and five boards and Heerdt had nine points and four rebounds.
“They did a great job keeping us out of the paint,” Farmer said. “That 1-3-1 they ran was great. We tried to attack it off the dribble. We tried to attack it off the pass. They just did a great job of adjusting. Every time we made an adjustment to attack it and were successful, they made an adjustment. And you have to hand it to those kids. They made the adjustment on the floor. They didn’t call any timeouts or anything.”