By JAMES COOK email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — FRANKFORT — Three area boys basketball teams remain in the final eight of their respective classes.
And the Northwest Conference is well-represented. Glen Lake and Frankfort give the league two entries in today’s quarterfinals.
In Class B, Cadillac (20-4) takes on Big Rapids (23-1) essentially at home at Ferris State University. Glen Lake (23-2) faces Negaunee (23-1) in a Class C quarter at Gaylord and Frankfort (20-5) plays Class D No. 1-ranked Wyoming Tri-unity (23-2) at Comstock Park.
The Lakers’ last quarterfinals trip was 1996. Frankfort’s wait was even longer — 1975.
“Everyone was like, ‘Well, I think the Northwest is kind of down this year,’” Glen Lake coach Todd Hazelton said. “And we’ve proven otherwise with two solid teams. And Suttons Bay won their district, too.”
“I think a lot of people, as the season went on, didn’t really appreciate how good (the league) was,” Frankfort coach Reggie Manville said. “The proof in the pudding is the state tournament.”
Frankfort came skidding into the playoffs, losing four of their last five regular-season contests. But that hasn’t been the case once the games had more importance.
“We were winning some games where we weren’t doing some fundamental things and shouldn’t have (won),” Manville said of the skid. “It finally caught up to us.”
It’s also of note that two of those four losses were to Class B Kingsley, one to Glen Lake and one to eventual Class D district champ Suttons Bay.
“We came out of that, and I think we learned a lot about getting back to doing the things that made us successful early in the year,” Manville said.
David Loney’s scoring has increased from 18 points a game to 22 in the playoffs. Similarly, Owen Stratton’s has risen from 16 to 22.
“And then what we’ve had is in each game, somebody has stepped up,” Manville said. “The other night it was Brandon Schaub. Kole Hollenbeck the game before that.”
Tri-unity is a decorated Class D program. The Defenders have won four state titles since 1996 and been in the finals three other times.
“The youth that we have on our team, I think it’s almost advantageous,” Manville said. “I don’t think they realize how much pressure there is involved. They just go out and play. They’re not worried about if they’re supposed to win or if they’re supposed to lose. They’re just playing good basketball.”
Tri-unity has Class D Player of the Year Joey Blauwkamp, a 6-foot guard who is averaging 14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and 3.5 steals per game.
“We’re not worried about that,” Schaub said. “We’re ready to go right at them. What’s one more?”
Glen Lake, meanwhile, faces a defensive-minded Negaunee team that hasn’t given up more than 37 points in any game of its tourney run. The Lakers are holding opponents to 41 a contest, so quality shots will be at a premium on both ends of the floor.
“I’m old fashioned,” Hazelton said. “Let’s get the ball inside first. The 15-foot shot is a shot that’s not guarded nowadays. We guard the same way — you stop the drive and you stop the three. But no one guards the mid-range game. So I’ve really encouraged Carter (Lee) and Curtis (Bunek) to work their way into that 15-foot area. And Mike (O’Brien), too. They’re high-percentage shots and usually uncontested.
“Carter has such an explosive first step that he can get by anyone. He just need to learn that once he gets by them, it’s pull up and (take a) jump shot. He’s done a great job in this tournament run.”
Hazelton said the Miners are one of the top three teams in the entire Upper Peninsula this season, joined by Cedarville and Marquette. Negaunee and Marquette split two games this season, accounting for the Miners’ only setback of the season. And to find that defeat, you have to go all the way back to Dec. 13. Glen Lake hasn’t lost since a one-point January loss to Frankfort.
“They’re one of the top three teams in the U.P., so they’re going to be tough,” Hazelton said. “And this is the third year in a row they’ve been to this game, so I don’t think the pressure is going to get to them much. Whereas it’s our first time in a long time. They have a little advantage in that way.
“They have great guards, so we have to stop penetration in the lane. And then be out on their 3-point shooters, too, because they’re great shooters. It’s a tough dilemma. You want to give them room for the drive, but you don’t want to give them too much or they’ll shoot the three.”
But the last time Glen Lake made the quarters, the Lakers advanced all the way to the state final.
In Class B, Cadillac hasn’t had any of its five post-season games decided by less than nine points, winning by an average of 19.4. Big Rapids likewise hasn’t been tested much in the playoffs, playing only one game that wasn’t a double-digit victory.