Breslin Beckons: Frankfort pulls out overtime thriller to send them to the Final Four

Frankfort’s Jack Stefanski (0) reacts after hitting the game-tying free throw with 0.1 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a Division 4 quarterfinal game against Crossroads in Cadillac in March.

FRANKFORT — The Frankfort Panthers looked to have lost everything.

Entering the 2018-19 season, Frankfort boys basketball was fielding a completely new starting five, lost key subs and had a new head coach take over the program after years were spent under Reggie Manville’s direction.

Frankfort didn’t skip a beat. In fact, they blew away expectations on their way to the first state finals appearance in school history and a magical run through the playoffs, earning them the Record-Eagles’s No. 3 local sports story of 2019.

The Panthers finished the season second place in the Northwest Conference and lost their final game of the regular season before the unimaginable run began.

Frankfort went on to win seven straight in the playoffs, two of which were overtime wins and two others that were decided by a late game heroics, before falling in the Division 4 state title game to Southfield Christian.

“Everybody thought we were rebuilding this year and us as a coaching staff didn’t want to set expectations so we never really talked about it,” Panthers first year head coach Dan Loney said. “As a coaching staff we said we weren’t rebuilding, we were reloading. These kids have been in the program and Reggie Manville set the expectations for seven years straight and these kids saw that environment, worked toward it and earned this.”

Following a 14-5 regular season the Panthers had a close opening round match with Onekama, taking out the Portagers 44-42 in overtime. They would win their next three games with ease before the used every piece of magic they had over the next three contests.

Jack Stefanski would come up in the clutch in the regional and quarterfinals. Stefanski nailed a 3-pointer as time expired against Leland to send Frankfort to the quarterfinals where they beat Big Rapids Crossroads in overtime after a free throw lane violation gave Stefanski another chance at a missed FT.

The drama didn’t stop there as Frankfort had a comfortable 23-point lead vanish in the semifinal against Tri-Unity Christian, falling behind in the final minutes before Ethan Ness’ free throws sealed the title game berth.

“This sets expectations for the program,” Loney said after the finals loss. “{/span}This is where we want Frankfort to be and these guys did a good job of getting us here. Now these underclassmen see that and know what it feels like to be here. They set the tone for the entire program.”

The Panthers fell to back-to-back champion Southfield Christian 63-39 in the final.

Frankfort was the fourth team from the Northwest Conference to make a state title game in the last three years.

Many pieces have returned for the Panthers in 2019-20 including Stefanski and Loney, who hope to make a return trip to the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

Follow Jake on Twitter @JakeAtnip

Recommended for you