NEGAUNEE - He who heats up last heats up best.
Since there wasn't much to pick from between the Superior Central and North Central high school boys basketball teams, it was the timing of an NC hot streak that proved decisive in their Class D regional semifinal contest, Monday night at Negaunee's Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium.
After relinquishing a big lead to SC in the third quarter, the Jets retook control in the fourth quarter, then held off a desperation 25-foot shot at the buzzer that missed, to post a 64-61 victory.
Paul Gerard photo
North Central’s Tyler Polfus goes for a contested layup as Matt Verbrigghe (22) of Superior Central tries to block with Bryce Richard (12) looking on during their regional semifinal game at Negaunee Monday night.
North Central (21-3) returns to Negaunee to play in the regional championship game at 7 p.m. Wednesday against Forest Park, which also held off a furious rally by Chassell to win 49-47 in Monday's nightcap.
How close were Monday's two Centrals, Superior and North?
They finished a half-game apart in the Central Upper Peninsula Conference standings;
N. Central 21 13 11 19 - 64
Sup Central 12 10 23 16 - 61
Summary (field goals, free throws, total points)
NORTH CENTRAL - Polfus, 2-1-7; R. Granquist, 4-1-9; J. Granquist, 4-2-12; Vincent, 10-4-25; Martin, 3-1-7; Ekberg, 2-0-4. Totals, 25-9-64.
SUPERIOR CENTRAL - Steward, 5-2-12; Richard, 11-3-25; N. Maki, 1-0-2; Verbrigghe, 4-6-14; T. Maki, 3-2-8. Totals, 24-13-61.
Each defeated a rival that finished ahead of them in the CUP during last week's district tourneys - the Jets knocked off Carney-Nadeau and the Cougars took care of Munising.
In the teams' only previous meeting in mid-January, NC won at home, 65-60, a score nearly identical to Monday's.
The Cougars, who finished at 16-8, could blame four more regular-season losses than what NC had because of playing several strong Class B and C programs - Negaunee, Gwinn and Menominee.
So it wasn't surprising that on Monday each team had a player who scored 25 points - senior Bryce Richard for Superior Central, junior Travis Vincent for North Central.
"These were two very evenly matched teams," Cougars coach Herb Jenkins said. "They just knocked down more shots when it really counted."
"I thought we did a good job of getting back into attack mode on defense after the lapse we had in the third quarter," Jets coach Adam Mercier said. "We started getting rebounds and steals, then converted them into inside points."
The Jets did have one challenge to overcome - no seniors on its roster - but it didn't seem to hurt them, even with the Cougars starting five 12th-graders.
"We lost four seniors who graduated last year," Mercier said. "But we still have some guys with good varsity experience.
"Our guys really come through in the big games. Maybe it's because they're so young, they don't know enough to be nervous."
North Central jumped out to a 21-12 lead after one quarter, moving out to 14-point leads four times in the second quarter before settling for a 34-22 halftime advantage.
The Cougars needed about half the third quarter to find its stride, completing the quarter on a 15-4 run to tie the game, 45-45.
"We really made no adjustments at halftime," Jenkins said. "We just needed to pound the ball inside. For some reason we got away from that in the first half. I just kept emphasizing it to the guys at halftime and every time we had a timeout."
Jenkins thought he had the Jets right where he wanted them when they decided to concentrate on stopping his senior guard, Trevor Maki.
"We get our scoring from our front line, so when they tried to take Trevor out of our offense, I thought, 'Perfect,'" he said.
In addition to the 6-foot-5 Richard scoring 25 points, 6-4 senior Matt Verbrigghe finished with 14 and 6-3 senior Dan Steward put in 12.
Steward opened his team's third-quarter run with buckets 16 seconds apart before Verbrigghe tacked on a traditional three-point play. Richard then took over, adding four baskets in the final 3 1/2 minutes of the third. The comeback was complete and the score tied a second before the period ended when Maki drove the baseline and stuck in a running layup.
Superior Central twice took two-point leads to open the fourth before the Jets put together the game's final run, 11-3, to go ahead 58-52 with 1:45 left. North Central re-established itself with a combination of steals, offensive rebounds and timely shot making.
The Cougars were forced to commit eight fouls in the final two minutes, and it was almost enough.
Trailing by three points, SC inbounded the ball to Maki for the last time with 9.4 seconds left. He moved it to near the 3-point line, but a hounding double team forced him to dish it back to junior Nick Maki, whose shot with two or three seconds left from way behind the arc hit all air.
Junior Josh Granquist added 12 points and sophomore Rob Granquist nine for the Jets.