NEGAUNEE—Forest Park’s best boys basketball season in years ended March 13 when North Central defeated the Trojans 59-50 at the Class D regional title game here. FP reached the regional finals March 11 by eliminating Chassell 49-47 in a tension-packed semifinal game.
The team finishes with a 15-9 season record. Three of those losses were to the Jets, who face Cedarville in a state quarterfinal game at Marquette March 19. The winner moves on to East Lansing.
Vs. Chassell: The Trojans had to battle a tough Chassell team from start to finish in the regional semifinals. Fans saw seven lead changes (three in the fourth quarter) and nine ties. Neither team led by more than six points.
Jeff Johnson supplied the heroics. His three-pointer put the Trojans ahead 44-41 midway through the fourth quarter. But points were hard to come by, and Chassell didn’t go away. Jake Tuomi’s basket and Brant Ryynanen’s two free throws got the Panthers back in front 47-46 with 1:01 left.
Missed chances: Chassell was fouled two more times but missed both front ends, and the Trojans still trailed by one. With 22 seconds left, Johnson was left open in the left corner. Big mistake—he bombed in a three, and Forest Park was back in front, 49-47.
After that, Chassell missed a shot and FP missed a free throw. With one second left, Johnson fouled a Panther shooter. The ETC player went to the line with a chance to force overtime—but missed both free throws.
Coach Chris Nocerini said his team started slowly. After Chassell’s Carson Ryynanen scored six in the first quarter, he went to a man-to-man defense in the second. L.J. Burns, Johnson, Lee Graff and Mitch Bal all got busy.
Back and forth: Neither team could open a lead. FP led by five in the second quarter—Chassell rallied 8-0 on threes by Brant Ryynanen and Josh Pietila to go ahead. Then shots by FP’s Derek Aberly and Burns got the lead back.
Baskets by Austin Snell, Graff and Aberly built up a six-point lead late in the third quarter—their biggest. Chassell came back with a 12-2 rally (threes by Pietila and Carson Ryynanen) to go ahead 41-37 early in the fourth quarter—their biggest. Baskets by Aberly and Graff tied it again.
That’s how it went. “As long as we’re there,” said the coach, “we find a way to win.” Johnson led the Trojans with 17 points, Aberly had 12 and Burns netted seven.
Numbers: FP team: 18-41 (44%) 2’s, 4-12 (33%) 3’s, 1-2 FT, 13 fouls, 35 rebounds. Chassell team: 12-28 (43%) 2’s, 7-26 (27%) 3’s, 2-6 FT, 35 rebounds, 10 fouls.
FP team: Jeff Johnson, 17 pts, 2x3, 3 rebs, 2 asts; Derek Aberly, 12 pts, 5 rebs; L.J. Burns, 7 pts, 4 asts; Lee Graff, 6 pts, 11 rebs, 7 asts, 2 stls; Austin Snell, 5 pts, 5 rebs, 3 asts. Chassell stats: Carson Ryynanen, 13 pts, 7 rebs, 4 asts; Josh Pietila, 12 pts, 4x3, 6 rebs; Evan Huhta, 10 pts, 10 rebs, 3 asts; Brant Ryynanen, 8 pts, 2x3.
Trojans 11 14 12 12 -- 49
Panthers 10 14 15 8 -- 47
Vs. North Central: After losing twice to North Central during the regular season, the Trojans had to feel good about their 32-28 halftime lead.
Then the Jets attacked in the third quarter. Insert your own sound effects.
The main one was “swish.” Travis Vincent hit two baskets. Trevor Ekberg converted a three-point play and Tyler Polfus buried a pair of triples, as the Jets’ 13-2 rally put them ahead 41-34 midway through the third.
After that, the Trojans had to abandon their zone and scrambled just to stay close. NC’s lead grew to nine before a 10-3 Trojan run (Chris Hilberg and Snell threes, Graff and Snell twos) cut the margin to two, 48-46, early in the fourth quarter.
But the Jets outscored FP 9-3 from there and soon were lifting the trophy.
Aberly’s half: The game was close throughout the first half (six lead changes, five ties) mainly because of Aberly, who scored 10 of the Trojans’ first 12 points and had 20 in the first half. The Jets ended the first quarter on a 9-3 run and led 20-15.
The Trojans caught up on Aberly’s basket midway through the second quarter and went ahead on a strange play. Austin Carlson wound up sitting on the floor, holding the ball—but twisted around and passed to Aberly, who scored to put the Trojans ahead 27-25.
Baskets by Johnson and Carlson (on Aberly’s pass as he was falling) put the Trojans up 32-28 at halftime.
Nocerini said FP wanted to man up with the Jets. “We were going to take our chances.” When Carlson came in, FP went to a 2-3 zone. “It kept slipping them up and confusing them.”
“Nothing to lose”: Later, Nocerini talked about a pre-game talk with Jets Coach Adam Mercier. “He asked me if I’m nervous. I said, ‘No, Adam; I’m supposed to be ice fishing right now.’
“And my kids played that way—really loose.”
Aberly in the first half? “Unbelievable! That’s what you look for—someone to step up, take charge of the team, and he did.” The Jets put Vincent on Aberly in the second half, holding him to two.
“I wish them the best of luck,” said Nocerini. “They are great representatives of our conference.”
Satisfied: The Trojans were tough nuts to crack, too. “We tell them, Take care of the ball, play tough defense and hit your free throws, and you will be around in the last three minutes.
“And they were tonight. I’m very proud of my team and the season they had.”
The Trojans lose Aberly, Burns and Hilberg to graduation, but junior guards Johnson and Snell and sophomore forwards Graff and Carlson will all be back in 2013-14.
Numbers: FP team: 16-36 (44%; 54% 1st, 25% 2nd) 2’s, 4-14 (29%) 3’s, 6-11 (55%); 28 rebs, 7 turnovers. NC team: 17-39 (44%) 2’s, 5-11 (45%) 3’s. 10-15 (67%) FT, 35 rebounds, 10 turnovers.
FP stats: Aberly, 22 pts, 6 rebs; Johnson, 8 pts, 2x3, 3 asts, 3 stls; Snell, 7 pts, 5 asts; Chris Hilberg, 5 pts, 4 rebs. NC stats: Travis Vincent, 20 pts, 13 rebs; Trevor Ekberg, 13 pts, 9 rebs, 5 blocks; Rob Granquist, 10 pts, 6 rebs, 5 asts; Tyler Polfus, 7 pts, 2x3; Caleb Martin, 6 pts.
Trojans 15 17 7 11 -- 50
Jets 20 8 17 14 -- 59