HARRIS - There isn't much else that can exemplify the madness of March like the ongoing war that is Carney-Nadeau and North Central.
Fittingly, the two long-time next door rivals met Friday night, both ranked in the top five of the final UPSSA poll, both putting it all out on a neutral court that was packed to the gills, easily the largest attendance at the school since the playing days of Brock Bower and company.
Amidst the swirling, chaotic blur that was this Class D, District 126 final, North Central won its third title in four years, defeating the Wolves 66-57.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Travis Vincent of North Central takes a leaping jump shot from just outside the box over Carney-Nadeau's Austin johnson during Friday night's Class D Distrcit 126 Final at Bark River-Harris. North Central won 66-57.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Carney-Nadeau’s Keenan Lampinen (25) shoots over Caleb Martin (34) of North Central during Friday’s district championship at Bark River-Harris
"Any time you win one, it's big and three out of four years now, it really feels nice. Our players put a lot of work into this. One of our goals that we had was to win the conference, win the district. We didn't care who it was against," said Jets head coach Adam Mercier.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the game may have been decided by free throws, but where it gets interesting is the way it went down.
With 2.5 seconds left in the first half, North Central held a 37-31 advantage when Trevor Ekberg was fouled from beyond the arc on a shot attempt.
North Central 19 22 8 16 - 65
Carney-Nadeau 14 17 14 12 - 57
North Central - R. Granquist 20, J. Granquist 2, Vincent 19, J. Whitens 14, Martin 4, Ekberg 6; FT: 15-27; F: 26; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: R. Granquist, Vincent.
Carney-Nadeau - Lampinen 22, DuPont 8, Blahnik 6, Johnson 14, Duran 3, Logan Forgette 4; FT: 18-24; F: 21; Fouled out: Blahnik; 3-point field goals: DuPont 2, Lampinen, Johnson, Duran.
Before Ekberg could step to the line, Carney-Nadeau coach Jake Polfus was called for a technical foul, so three free throw attempts became five. Ekberg made two of the first three and Rob Granquist came in and made both of the technical free throws to give North Central a 41-31 lead going into the second half.
"The end of the first half was a big momentum switch for us, being able to get that 10 point lead going into the half," Mercier said. "But we were never comfortable with the lead against Carney. Their kids can score it and they did a great job being aggressive in the second half, driving to the rim."
"It was just too much built up anger," Carney-Nadeau head coach Jake Polfus said of his technical. "I went into the locker room at halftime, calmed myself and I did a lot better job in he second half being calm, and I have to learn to do that a lot better. But, give the kids credit. They fought back tonight."
The Wolves responded well to open the second half, going on a 6-2 run to draw within 43-37, and they held the jets' high flying, athletic offense to just eight points in the quarter. By the end of the frame, Carney-Nadeau had closed the gap to 47-45 with seconds to go after Keenan Lampinen hit two free throws.
It was a quarter that was dominated in just about every way by the Wolves who held a 12-2 advantage in fouls over those eight minutes.
But with one quick swish, the momentum swung firmly back to the Jets.
Rob Granquist took the ball up the court and through the heart of the Wolves defense and in for a short jumper as the buzzer sounded.
"The coaches told me to go hard to the rim, take the opening and get to the rim, and it went in," said Granquist.
"I thought Robby's play was huge. He's just a natural leader and he steps up at big times and hit a big shot in the third quarter," said Mercier. "I thought they had the momentum going. We had a really poor offensive quarter in the third and I thought he came through with a big bucket and gave us a little breathing room going into the fourth quarter."
The Wolves drew back within two when Tyler Polfus was called for a technical to open the fourth and Logan Forgette made both free throws. At around that point, the Jets had four players playing with four fouls, the slightest error threatening to change the game. The Jets however, inserted Caleb Martin and Polfus and navigated that situation unscathed.
The Wolves however, lost one of their key players, when Dionte Blahnik fouled out with just under three minutes remaining and the Jets leading 58-53.
Undeterred, Carney-Nadeau (18-5) drew within three on a lay-in from Forgette with under two minutes remaining. Trevor Ekberg was fouled on the Jets' next possession and missed both free throws as the Wolves got big eyes staring down the court. That's when Jason Whitens swooped in, stole the ball and turned it around for a bunny to seal the deal as the crowd roared, the scoreboard showing less than a minute and the Jets up by five.
"That was a freshman making a heady play," said Mercier of Whitens' move. "He plays a lot of basketball and he's able to do those things without a lot of coaching from us. He's just a natural player and that was a great play at the time we needed it."
Granquist led the Jets with 20 points. Travis Vincent scored 19 and Whitens added 14. Keenan Lampinen scored 22 in his final game in Wolves' green and yellow, finishing with 1,069 career points, good for 13th on the all-time boys scoring list at Carney-Nadeau, just above Nick Mellen and Mike Polfus who both had 1,068.
"Every year, I told the kids, being a coach, it never gets any easier," said Coach Polfus. "With five seniors, losing them and the way they've grown and gotten better. It's going to make it even tougher.
"This gym was crazy though. It was absolutely amazing. Both communities are absolutely great. It was awesome. It was a great thing to be a part of."
Rob Granquist was also amazed by the sheer number of people that packed the Broncos gym.
"This was probably the most people I've seen in a gym in my life," he said. "it was fun.
Was he nervous?
"I probably calmed down a little before halftime," he said. "The nerves lasted a while but we got over them."
The Jets (23-0) will advance to Monday's regional semifinal at Escanaba, where they'll face Munising (19-3). The Mustangs defeated Big Bay de Noc 55-38, Friday night, but Mercier and the Jets feel confident going forward and having survived arguably the toughest Class D district in the state.
"When you have quality basketball teams to go through...and Carney's a very good ballclub," said Mercier. "Hats off to their seniors. Keenan and Dionte are amazing basketball players and I wish them well. We stepped up at big moments tonight in the fourth quarter, and we have a good feel right now."