Rapid River, Mid Pen to meet in Class D district final
By John Vrancic
MUNISING — The Rapid River boys have struggled from the free throw line much of this basketball season.
It was the charity stripe which saved the Rockets Wednesday night, however, in a 49-43 triumph over the Munising Mustangs in a Class D district semifinal.
The victory enables the Rockets (18-3) to return to Munising High School to face Mid Peninsula (4-17) in Friday’s championship game which begins at 7 p.m. Munising finished 18-4.
Mid Pen advanced with a 55-44 triumph over Big Bay de Noc (2-19) in an earlier contest.
The Rockets preserved the victory by sinking 7-of-8 gifters in the final 76 seconds.
“We were in the gym working on free throws last weekend,” said Rapid River sophomore guard Tyler Sundling, who drained 3-of-4 in the final 13.1 seconds. “Coach (Rich Poma) told us to relax and take our time. He also told us to block out the fan noise. I couldn’t hear anything. We went to a 3-2 zone and Coach told us no fouls.”
Munising climbed within 42-41 with one minute, 43 seconds left in the contest when sophomore forward Josh Huotari split a pair of free throws.
Sundling then sank a pair to put the Rockets up 44-41 at 1:16.
“I wasn’t hitting from the field, but I was glad to hit those,” he said. “That gave us a little breathing room. We knew this was going to be one of the hardest games all season.”
Sundling went 5-of-6 gifters in the final 76 seconds and senior forward Cameron Willemsen added a pair for a 46-41 cushion with 36 seconds remaining.
A lay-in by junior forward Jesse Matson brought the Mustangs within 46-43 with 14 seconds left to play.
The Rockets, however, didn’t allow Munising to get any closer down the stretch.
“Free throws had been our Achilles heel, but tonight that’s what saved us,” said Rockets’ coach Rich Poma. “I thought everybody played well defensively. I was happy to see the way they handled the crowd. The guys held their composure.”
Rapid River led by as much as 33-20 following a 20-foot jump shot senior guard Lucas Sundling with 3:50 left in the third stanza.
Munising then finished the third with an 11-2 run, shaving its deficit to 35-31 on a jumper from top of the key by Huotari.
Senior guard Alec Blank opened the fourth with a 6-foot jumper and suddenly the Mustangs were within 35-33.
The Rockets responded with five unanswered points, gaining a 40-33 advantage on a gifter with 6:51 remaining and setting the stage for a frantic finish.
“Cameron and Tyler really came through for us from the line,” said Poma. “I thought Munising played extremely well in the second half. They were patient and made us grind down on defense. It’s hard to beat a team three times. To get three wins against that team is fantastic.”
Lucas Sundling led the Rockets with 14 points. Senior center Logan Hardwick added 12 points. nine rebounds and a blocked shot. Tyler Sundling finished with seven points, three assists and two blocks.
Blank and senior backcourt mate Cade Contreras scored 13 points apiece for the Mustangs, who hit 16-of-49 field goals and committed eight turnovers. Rapid River was 15-of-38 from the floor and had 12 miscues.
Mid Pen also completed a three-game season sweep of Big Bay this season in Wednesday’s opener.
Big Bay was within 33-28 following a set shot from the right corner by junior guard Chris Chaperon with 1:40 remaining in the third quarter.
The Wolverines extended their lead to 37-29 on a jumper from the lane by sophomore guard Dylan Trudell with five seconds left in the third.
Mid Pen then led by as much as 42-29 following a pair of free throws by senior center Billy Carlson with 5:06 left in the contest.
A 20-foot jumper from the left wing by junior Kellen Thill brought Big Bay within 46-39 with 2:20 remaining.
The Wolverines responded with a 7-2 run, gaining a 53-41 cushion on a 3-point play by senior forward Terry Brower with 39.6 seconds left.
“We couldn’t get the feel of things,” said Mid Pen coach Mark Branstrom. “We really didn’t have the energy we needed. The kids played hard on both teams, but things weren’t working out for either team. The bottom line is you want to feel good after a win, but tonight we didn’t play up to our potential. Although, that’s not to take anything away from Big Bay. They shot real well. They have three guys who can shoot from the 3-point throw line.”
Mid Pen led 13-12 after the first quarter of a contest which both teams were deliberate on offense for the most part.
Brower, however, scored on a fast break layup to open the second and sophomore guard Zach Englund followed with back-to-back fast break layups for a 19-12 cushion.
“The fast breaks gave us the separation we needed,” said Branstrom. “Dylan (Trudell) getting in foul trouble hurt us. That took away some of our flow. Brandon (Nummilien) and Billy had real good games. Brandon was feeling under the weather, but he helped us make some big stops. Brandon doesn’t let anything stop him. He’ll play through anything. I’m proud of the whole team. They stepped up when they needed to.”
Brower scored 16 points. Englund hit 12 and Carlson had 11 for Mid Pen, which sank 17-of-51 field goals and committed 13 turnovers. Chaperon hit 17 and Thill finished with 13 for Big Bay which had 11 miscues.
Rapid River 9 13 13 14 — 49
Munising 8 6 17 12 — 43
Rapid River — LaCasse 2, L. Sundling 14, T. Sundling 7, Hardwick 12, Willemsen 7, DeMars 3, Orth 4. FT: 13-21; F: 13; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: L. Sundling 4, Hardwick, Willemsen.
Munising — Huotar 4, Matson 6, Blank 13, Contreras 13, Mattson 7. FT: 8-13; F: 18; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Huotari, Blank, Mattson.
Big Bay de Noc 12 8 9 15 — 44
Mid Peninsula 13 15 9 18 — 55
Big Bay de Noc — McKeage 2, A. LaLonde 8, Thill 13, Chaperon 17, Raredon 4. FT: 1-5; F: 20; Fouled out: McKeage, Thill, Raredon; 3-point field goals: Thill 3, A. LaLonde, Chaperon.
Mid Peninsula — Carlson 11, Trudell 6, Brower 16, Nummillen 9, Englund 12, Lehtikangas 1. FT: 19-30; F: 13; Fouled out: Trudell.