Forest Park’s boys basketball team celebrates their District 127 title with their loyal cheerleaders after the trophy presentation March 8. Team members are Austin Snell (3), L.J. Burns (4), Mitch Bal (10), Hank Steiro (14), Zach Painter (in civvies), Jeff Johnson (23), Raymond Tomasik (25), Lee Graff (30), Cameron Davis (32), Chris Hilberg (33), Derek Aberly (35), Brett Smithson (42), Austin Carlson (44) and Jeff Willman (50). In back are Coaches Chris Nocerini, Dave Graff and Jason Price.
BESSEMER—After two wild nights of action at the aptly named House of Noise, meet your new District 127 boys basketball champions: the Forest Park Trojans!
The Trojans won their first district title since 2010 by getting past Wakefield-Marenisco in overtime, 65-61, on March 6 and then outgunning Ewen-Trout Creek 63-57 in the title game March 8. It’s the first district title for Coach Chris Nocerini.
The Trojans were to face more Panthers—from Chassell—in the Class D regionals March 11 at Negaunee. The winner faces either North Central or Superior Central in the regional finals March 13.
Vs. Wakefield: The Trojans led 27-23 at halftime, but the Cardinals’ 12-6 third quarter put them up 35-33 after three.
W-M still led by two with 15 seconds left when Jeff Johnson was fouled while firing a three-pointer. He made all three free throws: Trojans, 53-52. Next, FP fouled an unidentified Cardinal with four seconds left, who made one of two to tie it 53-53 and force overtime.
Johnson led FP in overtime, scoring on an early layup and then a three: Trojans, 58-53. “We never looked back from there,” Nocerini said. Austin Snell had four free throws plus a basket in OT.
Patience! The Cardinals tested the Trojans’ patience by packing it in with a 2-3 zone and slowing the game down. When FP scored, W-M would match it. “We couldn’t inch ahead, and neither could they.”
The coach cited the hard work inside by Raymond Tomasik and Lee Graff. “They got down in the trenches and got into it.” He also cited big fourth quarters by Johnson (5 of 7 free throws), Graff (six points) and Snell (an important three-pointer; five points total).
Johnson led FP with 20 points, Snell had 18, and Graff had 10.
Numbers: FP team: 17-40 (43%) 2’s; 6-18 (33%) 3’s; 13-18 (72%) FT. W-M team: 14-32 (44%) 2’s. 5-20 (25%) 3’s, 18-30 (60%) FT.
FP stats: Jeff Johnson, 20 pts, 3x3; Austin Snell, 18 pts, 6 rebounds, 5 assists; Lee Graff, 10 pts, 7 rebs, 7 stls; Derek Aberly, 6 pts; Chris Hilberg, 5 pts; Raymond Tomasik, 7 rebs. W-M stats: Eric Lane, 18 pts; Kevin Lane, 15 pts; Jacob Ringsmuth, 13 pts; Colin Gagnon, 11 pts.
Cards 13 10 12 18 8 -- 61
Trojans 15 12 6 20 12 -- 65
Vs. ETC: The Panthers suffered a major blow before the opening tip. Dillon Gordon, their star senior, toughed out part of ETC’s semifinal win against Bessemer March 6 despite a high ankle sprain suffered late in the season. It was too much for his ankle—he was on crutches for the March 8 title game.
The Trojans took an early lead on Snell’s fast-break and never trailed. Two baskets each by Snell and Johnson gave FP a 13-7 lead in the first quarter. The lead grew to 13 in the second quarter before a late 6-0 Panthers rally cut the gap to 29-22 at halftime.
Snell missed the last three minutes of the half after hurting a wrist in a collision, but he was back on the floor when the second half started.
Panthers pounce: Derek Aberly scored six in the third quarter as the Trojans built up a 41-31 lead, but the Panthers attacked early in the fourth. Keith Kauss converted a three-point play. After Aberly scored, Kauss and Mike Borseth both hit, and ETC was within seven, 50-43, with 5:05 left. Time-out, Trojans.
When action resumed, Cole Besonen and Borseth both scored, getting the Panthers within three, 50-47, with 3:32 left. Nocerini called time and reminded his team they have a lead—so slow things down.
ETC never got closer. FP ran off eight straight (Aberly’s free throw, Tomasik’s basket off Snell’s pass, Aberly’s putback, Johnson’s free throw and Snell’s layup) for a 58-47 lead.
The Panthers battled to the end, getting within six with 18 seconds left, but Johnson and Snell made 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute.
Aberly and Snell led the Trojans with 15 points each: Coach Nocerini said he had a hunch Aberly would have a big night.
“Intensity”: “We knew we had to push it forward and run—that’s our game,” said Aberly. “These guys beat us the last three years, I think. Intensity—that was our main thing. Intensity, rebounds. We knew who their shooters were. We just had to come out and do it.”
“We played Ewen-Trout Creek exactly like we played Carney-Nadeau,” the coach said. “We went in our 1-2-2 zone offense, I was confident in it.”
Along with that, he said, Johnson, Graff and Snell “brought a ton of energy” and Tomasik (12 rebounds) was all over the floor. “He brought a lot of energy to the overtime against Wakefield, and I thought we could build on that.”
Skyline edge: Nocerini said the Trojans’ Skyline Conference schedule may have given his team an edge. “We come out of a tough conference and play some great teams. We’ve played games like this all season—there has seldom been anything easy.”
In fact, he credited North Central Coach Adam Mercier. “He gave me some nice tips last night at the girls’ game. When I see him, I’m going to thank him—his tips paid off.”
Since Mercier’s Jets also won their district, it could be Red and Black vs. Red and Black for the regional title.
Numbers: FP team: 22-50 (44%) 2’s, 3-11 (27%) 3’s, 10-19 (53%) FT, 30 rebs, 12 turnovers, 19 steals. ETC team: 18-32 (56%) 2’s, 4-13 (31%) 3’s, 9-14 (64%) FT, 39 rebounds, 28 turnovers.
FP stats: Snell, 15 pts, 3 asts, 4 stls; Aberly, 15 pts, 6 rebs; Graff, 12 pts, 2x3, 3 asts, 5 stls; Johnson, 9 pts, 6 stls; Tomasik, 8 pts, 12 rebs; L.J. Burns, 3 asts. ETC stats: Mike Borseth, 23 pts; Cole Besonen, 11 pts; Keith Kauss, 10 pts, 7 rebs; Logan Maki, 7 pts, 3 asts; Nick Hearns, 13 rebs; Lane Brown, 6 rebs.
Panthers 7 15 9 26 -- 57
Trojans 13 16 12 22 -- 63
Coming up: The regional tourney was supposed to start in Negaunee March 11, with the Trojans facing Chassell. The winner faces either North Central or Superior Central on March 13 for the regional title.
The quarterfinal game will be March 19 in either Marquette or Sault Ste. Marie.