EWEN—After surviving a challenging first game, Forest Park’s boys had smooth sailing at the Class D District 127 tournament, held last week at Ewen-Trout Creek High School.
The Trojans had to work hard to defeat a strong Bessemer team 52-47 in the tourney opener. Later wins over Watersmeet and Wakefield-Marenisco earned FP its second straight district title and a date at this week’s regional tournament, which began at Escanaba March 10.
The Trojans faced Lake Linden-Hubbell in the first semifinal game Monday evening. In the second game, North Central battled Munising. The Monday winners meet to decide the regional champ on Wednesday, March 12.
“I’m just thrilled we get to go back,” coach Chris Nocerini said after the trophy ceremony at ETC. “And I still don’t think we’ve played our best ball yet.”
District 127’s best two teams, Bessemer and Forest Park, collided in the tourney opener March 3, and the Speedboys got off to a fast start, scoring 11 straight points to lead 13-5 after the first quarter.
Lance Berwald scored seven during that run, and Ben Zielinski added four. Using fast transitions on offense and a stubborn 3-2 zone on defense, Bessemer had the upper hand.
Kam Krajewski led the Trojans’ reply with a two and a three, and Mitch Bal’s basket tied it at 19, but the Speedboys came back with an 7-0 run and led 26-19 at the half.
“I thought we were a little lackadaisical at the beginning,” Nocerini said later.
During halftime, “We had a little pep talk in the locker room,” and a more intense team took the floor for the second half.
“I don’t have to get in their faces,” said the coach. “But I do have to remind them: There’s nothing on the floor we haven’t run into all season. Play defense, run the floor and get on the glass. That’s what we did.”
Tthrees by Jeff Johnson and Austin Snell helped tie it at 28-28. After a Speedboy three, Snell’s basket and two hoops from Daniel Nocerini put the Trojans in front 34-31.
It was a chase from there, with five lead changes in the second half. Krajewski, a sophomore who earlier missed two months with a hip flexor, converted a pass to put FP ahead 38-37 after three.
Bessemer inched ahead early in the fourth, but FP’s defense forced several turnovers. Krajewski scored off Nocerini’s pass, then drove the right side for another. After a Bessemer time-out, Snell drove the lane for two—FP led by 45-41 with 3:30 left.
Also in that sequence: two big Raymond Tomasik rebounds when he was in for Nocerini. “Daniel needed a minute, and Raymond got those two big boards fresh.”
The Speedboys fought to the end, but two late Lee Graff hoops helped preserve the lead, and three straight free throws (after seven straight misses) closed out the win. “That game should have been put away a couple times.”
Snell scored 15 to lead FP, Krajewski had 13, and Nocerini scored 10. Berwald’s 17 led Bessemer.
Trojans 5 14 19 14 -- 52
Speedboys 13 13 11 10 -- 47
The Trojans seemed much more relaxed in their semifinal game against Watersmeet and took charge quickly. Seven points by both Graff and Snell and six by Austin Carlson boosted FP to a 23-6 first quarter lead.
Carlson added another six and Krajewski scored five in the second for a 42-16 lead. The Nimrods’ Israel Bolton pumped in a trio of 3-pointers in the third quarter, but Nocerini had eight points for FP.
Red-hot shooting made it an easy win. FP made 18 of 32 shots from the floor (56%) in the first half and 41% for the game. They also cashed in at the free throw line, making 12 of 16, 75%.
Graff and Carlson shared the scoring lead with 13 points each, followed by Nocerini with 10 and Snell and Krajewski with nine each. Nocerini had 10 boards, and Carlson had eight more. Johnson and Nocerini both had four assists.
For Watersmeet, Bolton led with 11, and Kevin Stevens added nine.
Nimrods 6 10 19 10 -- 45
Trojans 23 19 20 11 -- 75
The district title game with Wakefield-Marenisco wound up as a 15-point win. Don’t let the final score fool you. The Trojans built up a 26-point lead before calling off the dogs during the fourth quarter. Wakefield scored 13 straight but never got closer than 13.
Another early strike by the boys in black. Johnson and Snell nailed early threes, then Nocerini and Carlson struck inside. Up 15-4 after one, the Trojans’ 14-3 run during the second quarter built up a 34-16 halftime lead.
At the other end, the Cardinals weren’t hitting shots, and Carlson snapped up most of the misses. Often, W-M never got shots: Snell and Johnson were on patrol at guard.
“Our defensive plan was executed excellently” by Graff and Johnson, while Carlson helped out in the paint as needed. On offense, FP was patient against Wakefield’s 2-3 zone and passed the ball around.
Forest Park scored eight straight in the third quarter (two Snell triples) and had a 13-3 charge in the fourth (seven free throws and two Tomasik buckets).
Snell led the Trojans with 14, Carlson had 12, and Tomasik and Graff (battling a cold) both scored 11. Krajewski scored seven. FP shot 43% from the floor and 18 of 25 on free throws. Carlson also had 10 rebounds.
One final duty for Snell and Johnson: They accepted the championship trophy and presented it to the team. “They spearheaded our summer league,” the coach said, “and they stepped up to the senior goal.”
Trojans 15 19 16 15 -- 65
Cardinals 4 12 15 19 -- 50
• The Trojans are in Escanaba this week for the regional tournament, which started Monday. The FP-Lake Linden winner faces the North Central-Munising winner in the title game March 12.
The winner plays in the quarterfinal at either Marquette or Sault Ste. Marie on March 18.