MARQUETTE - The North Central Jets are battle tested and confident but will that be enough for a team playing in its first state quarterfinal since 1985? The Jets (22-3) will find out just how far they've come under head coach Adam Mercier Tuesday night at Marquette when they take on the favored No. 2-ranked (AP) Cedarville Trojans (23-1) in what is believed to be the first meeting between the two Upper Peninsula schools.
Cedarville is no stranger to playing deep into tournaments, but as head coach Dave Duncan said, this will be a new experience for his team.
"This team isn't so used to the quarterfinals," he said. "Cedarville has been there, but on this team we only have one kid that's played in one, and that's Josh Hester."
Justin?Marietti |?Daily Press
North Central’s Rob Granquist
displays his team’s regional trophy after defeating Forest Park Wednesday at Negaunee.
Hester, a 6-2 senior guard, is the Trojans' leading scorer and rebounder with 17 points per game and 10 rebounds. He was the Eastern U.P. Conference Player of the Year and scored 23 points with 15 rebounds and 10 assists in Cedarville's 92-85 double overtime victory over Hillman in the regional final.
"Josh has a decent shot and can go inside. He plays a three-spot," said Duncan. "He's our leading scorer, but we have kids that have been in double figures throughout the year. We have pretty good overall balance."
In addition to fellow seniors Todd Hecht, Keith Bouschor and Derek Griffin, the Trojans also have a very good point guard in sophomore Joe Duncan, who is coming off a 14 point, eight assists performance against Hillman.
"It was hard to get a good read on them when scouting," said Mercier. "You can't take one guy away, so the goal is to play solid man-to-man defense like we have been and take away some of their good looks."
Cedarville also boasts 6-5 Sault High transfer Dan Stenback, who was the starting center on the Blue Devil's Class A-B team of the year last season. Since joining the team (after sitting out the first half of the season) the Trojans have gone 14-0.
It's a tall order for the Jets but Mercier believes his team is certainly prepared, having played a difficult schedule with a variety of defenses thrown at them.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now. We've seen Wade Schetter and Brett Branstrom - Two of the best players in Class D in the state, five-six times," he said. "We're hoping we can use that to our advantage and not be intimidated because we've seen it before. We're under the belief that we're as good of a team as the other eight that are left in Class D right now."
One thing Duncan was sure about, the seniors on his team, he believes, doesn't give him any sort of an advantage.
"The experience is about the same for both teams,' he said. "Our kids haven't been there and neither have ours. And you can throw the schedules out the window. It really doesn't matter at this point who you've played."
Mericier said Cedarville possesses two attributes the Jets have seen in previous opponents but not to the extent the Trojans bring.
"We know they play up-tempo on offense and defense and their full court press is kind of their staple. Their press is completely different than what we've seen. They go 32 minutes in your face whether they're up by 10 or down by 10 and we have to be ready for that. How we react early is going to be really important to our success," he said.
"Cedarville might also be the most balanced scoring team that we've played so far in terms of athletic balance. Superior Central is a close second."
Mercier said that although every player on his team will return next year, they aren't looking at this opportunity as something that will come along again next year.
"We're going for broke. Nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen between here and next year," he said. "That's been our mindset all season long. We've accomplished a lot of great things, but the kids are hungry for more and there's not a player on this team that has next year in mind. We have a great opportunity to win one game and get to the Breslin Center. The kids are taking full advantage of that going into Tuesday."
Duncan spoke of the fortuitous circumstance surrounding the game.
"It's a big game. I'm sure North Central is excited as we are to be there and it should be fun for the U.P. also. We're going to have two U.P. teams in the quarterfinal, so we're guaranteed to have a U.P. team go downstate," he said.
The Jets have already knocked off a couple favored teams this postseason, and coach Mercier says his group of upstarts can do it again.
"The kids know how good Cedarville is, they're prepared," he said. "We've already been labeled the underdog but we're OK with that. The community is excited, the fans are excited and we're ready to prove to some naysayers that we're able to step up on a big stage like this."