EAST LANSING — Frankfort's charmed life looks to continue Saturday morning.
The Panthers boys basketball team plays in the program's first state championship game against Southfield Christian at 10 a.m.
It doesn't seem to matter who Frankfort (21-5) plays lately. The game will be close and the Panthers find a way — never the same way twice — to snatch victory in the waning seconds.
"We trust our teammates," Frankfort sophomore Jack Stefanski said. "If we go down, we're going to get ready and we're going to get back up. We trust everyone on this team. Everyone is here for a reason."
Three of Frankfort's seven postseason games thus far have come by blowout. The four others were decided by a combined total of eight points, two of those decided in overtime.
"Everybody wanted to talk about us rebuilding, and it was going to be a down couple years for us," Frankfort head coach Dan Loney said. "As a coaching staff, we looked at it more as we're going to reload and give it a run."
The Panthers graduated their entire starting lineup — Jaylon Rogers, Griffin Kelly, Matt Loney, Matthew Stefanski and Kirk Myers, as well as reserve Lonnie Hahn.
Expectations outside of Frankfort weren't high, although the Panthers started the year in the Associated Press' top 10 in Division 4, based in part on the program's reputation.
"No one thought we were going to be good this year," Stefanski said. "So we just showed we are a resilient bunch and we're going to play hard."
Stefanski estimated the Panthers' current roster played about 15 minutes of varsity time last season. That number may be a little low, with senior forward Jack Reznich accounting for most of it.
Still, the new group gelled throughout the season and plays in Saturday's title game that airs live on Fox Sports Detroit.
From Big Rapids Crossroads' Britton Angell to Wyoming Tri-unity's Bennett Sinner, the Panthers have beaten the spectrum. Now comes Southfield Christian.
Defending state champion Southfield Christian (20-6) returns two starters — Da'Jion Humphrey and Jon Sanders — from last year's state title team, as well as top reserve Rahmon Scruggs, who now starts. Caleb Hunter, the son of former Detroit Pistons player Lindsey Hunter, transferred for his senior campaign to Detroit Jesuit, which also earned a spot in Saturday's Division 2 finals.
Will Newbold, who has his choice of a full-ride scholarship to either the University of Michigan or Michigan State through the Western Golf Association's Chick Evans Scholarship, sure looked at home on MSU's campus. He rang up a game-high 16 points (along with Tri-unity's Sinner) to go along with seven rebounds and four steals in Thursday's 44-43 win over Wyoming Tri-unity.
Ethan Ness added 11 points, six rebounds and three assists, Jack Stefanski contributed seven points and a game-high 13 rebounds and Reznich logged four points, six rebounds and a game-high five assists. Conner Smith did his usual dirty work, boxing out, playing defense and drawing fouls. He ended with four points, three rebounds a block and a steal.
Frankfort outrebounded the Defenders, but Tri-unity won numerous significant statistical categories after a 27-2 run led it back from a 23-point third-quarter deficit.
The Defenders held advantages in points in the paint (30-16), points off turnovers (21-8), second-chance points (12-7) and fast-break points (6-0). Still, the Panthers found a way to win, just as they have all postseason long.
"They're a resilient bunch," Loney said. "They don't quit, no matter the score or how much we're up or down. They accept the challenge night in and night out. I can't tell you guys how many close games like this these guys have had this year, where they've stepped up to the plate and ended games with a win."
Southfield Christian likely saw the effectiveness of Tri-unity's full-court press in the second half, so it'd be no surprise if the Panthers spent a good portion of Friday's practice working on press breaking.
"We slowed down our pace, which we can't do," Ness said. "We had to finish off a close one, which we're good at."
Teams have also scouted out Panthers forward Conner Smith's defense, and Wyoming seemed to shy away from the senior and his penchant for drawing charges. Big Rapids Crossroads started the theme of staying away from Smith, and especially early on, Wyoming settled for mid-range jumpers rather than attacking the basket in order to stay out of foul trouble.
"No. 24, he was taking pull-up jumpers like that," Smith said. "They knew I was taking charges, so I think teams are starting to catch on. I'm trying to do my best to stick to my man, because every week, the kids get taller and taller and tougher and tougher.
"We love proving people wrong."