COMSTOCK PARK — Looking at the final scoreboard, it would have appeared Frankfort won its Class D quarterfinal against Wyoming Tri-unity.
After all, the Panthers scored 57 points to the guest’s 33.
But Frankfort was the scoreboard’s away team. Tri-unity was home and had quarterfinal host Comstock Park’s traditional Panthers mascot above its score during the 57-33 victory that put the No. 1-ranked Defenders (24-2) into their ninth Final Four in 17 years.
“It hurts right now,” Frankfort head coach Reggie Manville said. “They can stop over the next day or two and reflect on what we accomplished. I’m not happy. I won’t be happy unless we win the whole thing. We’re going to work towards that goal.”
And that isn’t unrealistic. The Panthers (20-6) return almost everybody from a team that won a regional title for the first time since 1975.
“They’re going to be a good team, as young as they are,” said Tri-unity coach Mark Keeler, who helped produce future NBA player Chris Kaman. “They should have good things to look forward to.”
The win put Keeler one step closer to a major career milestone. If the Defenders go on and win the state crown, it’d be his 500th coaching victory in 26 years as the school’s only varsity boys basketball coach.
Tri-unity’s half-court trapping defense led to 19 steals for the aptly-named Defenders. Those turnovers were frequently cashed in for transition buckets as Wyoming built up a 15-7 lead after one quarter and 29-17 at the intermission.
“It was an up-the-line defense, where any time you go to the corner, they double teamed us and we couldn’t get the ball to the other side,” Manville said.
Frankfort made a run at the Defenders in the third quarter, pulling to within seven points on a David Loney free throw with 1:50 left in the third. That caused Keeler to use a full timeout.
“We had a tough time getting it going,” Keeler said. “We tried doing too much at times. We called a timeout near the end of the quarter and got them refocused and they responded real well.”
Class D Player of the Year Joey Blaukamp’s tip-in with 1:11 left made it 38-29 going into the final quarter.
And then Tri-unity took off.
The Defenders scored the fourth’s first eight points to open up a 46-29 lead before a Loney bucket inside stopped the run.
“We got it to six or eight there in the third quarter and then we had four turnovers in a row,” Manville said. “And they had a lot to do with that. We were right there. Instead of going one way, it went the other way.”
However, Tri-unity scored the next nine points — from five different players — to put it away.
Daniel Cole led all scorers with 17 points, while Blaukamp had 15 and 10 rebounds. Evan Przybysz added 10 for Wyoming, which faces the winner of Cedarville and Powers North Central on Thursday at MSU’s Breslin Center.
“This was the best team we played all year, no doubt about it,” Manville said. “That kid that was the No. 1 player in Class D, I can see why. He’s as good as any kid we’ve played in any class.”
David Loney scored Frankfort’s first nine points. He ended the game with 12, Owen Stratton added 10 in his final Frankfort game and Brandon Schaub pitched in seven.
The Panthers — who start two juniors, a sophomore and a freshman — have a bright future ahead of them.
“We’ll be a better team overall,” Manville said, looking ahead to next season. “Our offense will be more spread around. It won’t be two guys. Our defense will be better, too. We’ll have an even better product on the floor next year.
“I’m really proud of these guys and thankful to the community for all the support they gave us this year. We’re going to work like heck to get back here. It’s not going to be another 37 years. I guarantee it.”