CRYSTAL FALLS—Playing with passion and pride, Forest Park’s seniors led the way in the final boys game of the regular season here Feb. 28.
Two minutes into the game, the Trojans had scored more points (10) than in the entire first half against Carney-Nadeau four nights earlier (eight). Their halftime score (33) matched their final score against the Wolves.
Not so against North Central, as the Trojans earned a 63-60 win, taking the lead just before halftime and never letting it go in the second half.
Forest Park hosts this week’s district tournament at the Eddie Chambers Gym, entering with a 8-12 season record, 5-9 in the Skyline Conference—but a winning record for the final third of the season.
Against North Central, “The seniors came out with a lot of emotion,” said Coach Chris Nocerini. “Five of them starting together, and they did a nice job.”
Right from the start, the Trojans were playing to win. Tyler Lovato got them jump-started with a pair of threes in the opening minute. Ben Painter scored on a fast break, and Michael Smithson’s rebound led to a Lovato fast break and bucket.
Trailing 10-0 after two minutes, North Central called time and then fought back. Late in the first quarter, four different NC players hit three-pointers. They followed with a seven-point rally that put them ahead 25-16 early in the second frame.
Time for a Trojan counterattack! Threes by L.J. Burns and Lovato and a fast break hoop by Derek Aberly led an eight-point run. Later, Aberly converted a three-point play to tie it at 29. NC scored again, but fast-break hoops by Painter (off Lovato’s pass) and Austin Snell put FP ahead. It was 33-33 at halftime.
Painter hit a three and two as FP went ahead by five during the third. The Jets were within one, 48-47, as the fourth quarter started, but baskets by Smithson, Burns, Aberly and Jake Divine gave FP some breathing room. With 2½ minutes to go, Forest Park led 60-51.
Cody Whitens led one final Jets attack, scoring seven points during a 9-2 North Central rally that got the Jets within two, 62-60, with a half-minute left. But Smithson was fouled in the backcourt with 20 seconds left, made his first (63-60), and NC’s final shot missed.
At halftime, Nocerini warned that the Jets would be dialing up their pressure. “We needed to have our big guys move to the middle, be big, give a target to those guards, and they did it.
“It was so nice to draw up a plan and watch it be executed by this team.”
Lovato went to the bench with four fouls early in the fourth. The coach wanted to bring him back later, “But Derek [Aberly] was doing such a nice job defensively. I didn’t want to mess with that.”
FP had three players in double figures (Lovato, 13; Burns, 11; Smithson, 10) and three others who came close (Aberly and Painter, nine each, and Divine, seven). “We’ve been waiting for this,” said the coach.
For the Jets, Bryce Bilski led with 16 points, Whitens had 14, and Trevor Ekberg had 10.
• Forest Park hosts the Class D District 127 tournament this week. The Trojans drew a first round bye and will face the winner of the Ewen-Trout Creek vs. Wakefield-Marenisco game in the second semifinal game on March 7 at 7 p.m. In the first semi, Ontonagon takes on the Bessemer-Watersmeet winner at 5:30.
The two semifinal winners meet for the district title on Friday, March 9, at 6 p.m.
Jets 18 15 14 13 -- 60
Trojans 15 18 15 15 -- 63