CRYSTAL FALLS—For one quarter, the battle of the western U.P.’s unbeatens went Forest Park’s way. The Trojans started well and built up a 15-8 first quarter lead at North Central’s gym.
But it didn’t last. The Jets caught up over two hard-fought quarters, tied it 40-40 after three and then outscored FP 23-10 in the final eight minutes for a 63-50 win.
The loss was Forest Park’s first of the season. Including a 56-39 win over Mid Peninsula Jan. 29, the Trojans start this week 10-1 overall, 7-1 in Skyline Conference play.
“It was billed as a huge game,” Coach Chris Nocerini said later. “The place was packed to the rafters, and for the most part people saw a great basketball game.
“It was fun. It reminded me of the old days in the armory.”
(The Mid Pen game was delayed one night, to Jan. 29, by last week’s subzero weather. The Jan. 27 Kingsford game was called off and won’t be rescheduled.)
Against the Wolverines, the Trojans led after one and opened up a 12-point halftime lead with an 18-8 second quarter.
With the long-awaited Jets clash just two nights away, the coach wondered if his team would be focused for Mid Pen. No problem. “I was proud of them,” he said. “They played hard.”
The Trojan defense played well, and everyone played a lot, with frequent substitutions. “A lot of kids came in and did some good things for us.
“Defensively, everybody who were in there held their own.”
The game marked the return of Kam Krajewski, who had been out with a hip flexor since the first Mid Pen game (back on Dec. 9). He led FP with 13 points, made three 3-pointers and all his free throws.
Beyond him, the Trojans’ balanced attack boasted 11 points each by Austin Snell. Lee Graff and Daniel Nocerini, whose seven rebounds led the team. Jeff Johnson had five boards and dealt out three assists. Nocerini and Graff each had three steals.
Brandon Stone led Mid Pen with 13 points.
Wolv’ines 9 8 11 11 -- 39
Trojans 11 18 12 15 -- 56
• At North Central, two unbeaten teams colliding in a smallish gym means an intense atmosphere. “A crazy environment,” said Coach Nocerini. “Absolutely the most fun we’ve ever had as a team.
“We sure learned a lot about ourselves as coaches and as a team,” he added. The biggest lesson: Forest Park can match up with the Jets man-to-man. “Our kids did an outstanding defensive job on them.”
FP’s 15-8 first quarter delighted the Trojans and their fans. Raymond Tomasik led the offense. “They sagged down on Daniel [Nocerini] and Lee [Graff] on their drives, and Raymond was left open and came through.”
The Trojans worked hard to neutralize the Jets’ height advantage. Graff played strong defense, and Nocerini made big baskets at key moments. What? He’s a freshman? “You don’t expect that,” said the coach.
But all the energy the Trojans had to use on defense took a toll. “It got to us in the fourth quarter,” Coach Nocerini said. “The fouls started occurring, and I thought our guys were just a little tired. There’s guys 3 to 4 inches taller than them all over the floor.”
Short of the FP players growing several inches in time for the Feb. 25 rematch at the Eddie Chambers Gym, “We’ll get our rotation down, and we’ll figure it out the next time around.
“We have a few other kids that can come in and contribute,” giving the starters a welcome breather. “That’s on me.”
Fouls and free throws made the difference. In the fourth quarter, the Jets made 10 of 12 at the line, to Forest Park’s 2 of 5. For the game, North Central had a 17-5 edge in free throw points and won by 13.
Nocerini’s big concern was that the officials seemed to call the game a lot tighter than in the first three quarters. “I didn’t agree with that. I felt it was the wrong time to start blowing your whistle when you let the ticky-tacky stuff go all game.
“All of a sudden they were in the double bonus, and we’re sitting on the board with four fouls.” At the same time, though, he continued, his team should have kept itself out of that situation.
Nocerini led the Trojans with 20 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Tomasik scored 12, Graff scored eight and Snell added seven. Graff had seven assists and three steals, and he and Tomasik both had six boards.
For the Jets, Travis Vincent led with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Trevor Ekberg scored 15, and the Jets’ other three starters scored nine, eight and seven.
“Give credit where credit’s due,” said the coach. “North Central is a good team. They’re the real deal.
“But I felt good. We hung tough with them for three quarters and pretty much late into the fourth quarter.” That ought to tell the Trojans they can play with anybody.
Trojans 15 13 12 10 -- 50
Jets 8 16 16 23 -- 63
• The boys team is on the road this week, visiting North Dickinson on Feb. 4 and Rapid River on Feb. 7. Then, back-to-back home games early next week: Florence on Feb. 10 and Republic-Michigamme on Feb. 11.
That may be the Hawks’ final visit to Forest Park for some time—Republic-Michigamme moves to the Copper Country Conference in 2014-15.