TRAVERSE CITY — The Leland and Frankfort boys basketball teams dominated the Division 4 regional semifinal boys basketball games that took place at Traverse City Central on Tuesday.
The Comets (14-8) came barreling into the Traverse City Central gym like a mass that just entered the atmosphere — scorching hot — and used a huge first quarter to defeat the Walkerville Wildcats (16-6) 65-56 in the first of two semifinal games on Tuesday.
Frankfort (18-5) followed the Comets' lead and ran out to a 15-3 first quarter lead before defeating Central Lake (11-9) 55-29 in the second game.
Leland and Frankfort will meet in the D4 regional final on Thursday at TC Central for their third matchup of the season — Frankfort won the previous two, including one that was decided in overtime.
"It is going to be tough and we know it," Frankfort head coach Dan Loney said of the regional title matchup. "They are going to bring their A-game and their coach is going to put in a great game plan. They played us tough at their place, took us to overtime at our place. I am excited."
The regional title is sure to have a lot of hype surrounding it, but before they could worry about Thursday these two teams had to get some work done in the semifinals.
To start the night, Leland jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead before the Wildcats got on the board, but it only got worse from there in the early going.
The culprit to the run was Comets sophomore Gavin Miller, who netted three 3-pointers and a total of 11 points in a first quarter that ended in favor of Leland 20-7. The last of those threes was a buzzer-beater from the corner that stifled a five point run by Walkerville.
The Wildcats began to find their footing when senior Adrian Haligus started pushing the ball in transition and cut the lead to 27-21 before Miller hit yet another buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the half and push the lead to nine.
"We took some early threes in possessions when we were up 20 points and those turn into transition buckets," Comets head coach Jon Kiessel said. "Pretty soon they were back in it, but every time they surged back in it our guys lifted up and over."
The game changed in the Wildcats favor in the waning minutes of the third quarter as an and-one layup by Haligus and a 3-pointer from senior Reynaldo Arredondo, followed by a couple of Dillon Brown layups cut the lead to only two points (33-31).
However, the Comets found yet another stroke of luck to widen the gap at the buzzer. Leland center Greyson Carlson, who is 6-foot-7, made an and-one layup and missed the ensuing free throw but got his own rebound with under two seconds left in the third and made the putback — extending the lead to six points.
"I think they really brought us back into the game," Miller said of the three buzzer-beaters. "They started catching up to us and we had those. It really brought us and the crowd back into it."
The Wildcats just couldn't make it back from there.
"That is just simple fundamentals," Walkerville head coach Lee Oomen said. "We had to box out and rebound on a free throw. We taught them that in fifth grade. Those are the things that win ball games like this. Those small mistakes turn into big points toward the end."
The closest they would come after that 6-0 run was eight points and Leland poured it on from there.
Leland was led by Miller with 22 points, followed by Carlson with 18 and JJ Popp with 11.
In the second game of the evening, Frankfort's defense dismantled the Trojans' offensive attack to the tune of six first-half points.
While sprinting out to a 35-6 halftime lead, the Panthers only allowed Central Lake to make 2-of-21 field goals in the first two periods — a 3-pointer by Bret Dewey in the first and a 3-pointer by Noah Newton in the second.
"Ever since first or second grade we have prided ourselves on man-to-man defense," Frankfort senior Conner Smith said. "They have always said we want our man-to-man to almost look like a zone, so it looks like we are double-teaming every time. We want to force turnovers which we did a really great job of today."
Turnovers, and what seemed to be a lid on the Trojans' basket, led to the large scoring runs in the first half, and Central Lake was too far down by the break to muster a comeback.
"They just came out with an intensity that we couldn't match," Central Lake head coach Donovan Eggleston said. "It is tough to stay in a game when you're missing shots and not getting stops. It just kind of seemed to snowball real quick."
That snowball turned into an avalanche before the Panthers' second-string was called into the game.
Frankfort has had some stellar early-game magic so far in the postseason, often jumping ahead early and holding a big lead throughout.
"We always want to jump on teams in those first couple of minutes when you are figuring each other out," Loney said. "If you can get up on a team eight or 10 points right there in a high school game you can dictate the rest.
"We tried to do that (dictate) with our defense. Our kids have been super locked-in on defense the last three games and the communication is there and energy is sky high. When we play like that we are tough to score on."
Frankfort was led by Will Newbold with 16 points, Jack Stefanski had 11 points and Ethan Ness totaled seven. Central Lake struggled offensively and was led by Dewey with 11 points and Newton with seven.
Each of the Panthers and Comets previous two games have been decided by five points or less, with Leland losing 62-59 in overtime on the Panthers' home court.