By RON DEUTER
KINGSFORD - Forest Park's girls basketball team knows Thursday's Class D regional title matchup against North Central will not be as easy as its stroll through the postseason up to this point.
Burt Angeli/The Daily News Photo
Forest Park’s Lexi Gussert (22) and Lake Linden’s Brittni Kisul (24) fight for the basketball in a Class D Region 32 girls basketball semifinal Tuesday at Kingsford High School.
"The Jets are tough, so we have to come out and play physical," said Lady Trojans junior Lexi Gussert, who dropped a cool 39 points in eliminating Lake Linden Hubbell 65-25, Tuesday night in regional semifinal action at Kingsford High School.
"We went to their house and won by two, and I know the girls were a bit shook up but we're ready to play now, ready to play more physical," Gussert said. "These (North Central) girls are good and I think they're going to come out ready too."
Surging North Central stunned U.P. No. 2 Superior Central 53-48 in Tuesday's early semifinal, clawing back from a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Against the Lakes, Gussert reached double figures less than five minutes into the game and totaled 32 by halftime - once again playing in front of multiple interested NCAA Division I eyes.
"I definitely know who's out there, but right now it's tournament time and I'm way more focussed on the team," Gussert said.
A Gussert jumper at the opening of the third quarter pumped the Trojans' lead to 40 and brought on a running clock for the rest of the game.
"We knew what we were getting into to," Lake Linden head coach Timm Gast said. "Tough team, tough kid in Lexi to stop. We did what we were able to do and that's all I can ask them to do."
The Lakes finished 12-11, appearing in a regional for the first time since 1984.
"This was such a great group of kids to coach this year," Gast said. "They did a lot of things nobody though they could do. We hit a lot of milestones this year. That's what we have to think about."
Gussert's 39 came on 15-of-27 shooting, including 4-of-11 from 3-point range. She also pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds and had at least three blocks. Like the district final Friday, she opened with a three and went on to score seven of her team's first 10 points.
"You watch her play, and we're so used to it, but if you see her for the first time, you're like, 'oh my god,'" Syrjanen said. "I watch her everyday in practice, and last night in practice she was lighting them up like crazy. I couldn't wait to get here."
Gussert said she felt good coming out Tuesday, but also credited her coaches.
"Our coaches do a great job of getting us pumped up," she said. "And when we start well, we usually end well."
Adel Issacson added six points for Forest Park. Kendra Campbell and Samantha Nylund each scored five.
"The whole group came out nice and scrappy," Syrjanen said. "I know Lexi is our leader but we can't do it with just one person. Our defense has been really good, been our motto all the way through, and we're playing it, playing hard.
"Holding a team to 10 points in the first half of a regional, that's pretty good."
Erin Gast Led Lake Linden with five points. The Lakes did not make a field goal in the second quarter.
For the Trojans, Thursday figures to provide at least a first taste of postseason adversity - if not more.
"We're going to run into a little more competition in the next game," Syrjanen said. "North Central is really not a bad team. We played them tough in both games this year. They are really playing at the top of their game right now. They're a tough team right now."
Forest Park opened the season with a 50-37 home win over the Jets. On Jan. 19 at Powers, it took a comeback effort to earn a 46-44 victory.
"I think we're fine against adversity," Syrjanen said. "These kids have played in front of big houses now, wherever we go, in front of the top college coaches in the country. We've shown we can come from behind. We're seasoned. These kids are young but they are not young anymore."
Syrjanen said maintaining focus is also not an issue with his group.
"We don't change a whole lot (in practice)," he said. "We work our fundamentals every single day, just go over and over our fundamentals. That's what we spend our time on. We try to keep practices short, keep them fresh.
"We are not afraid to play deep, and they're focussed because they know there is someone right behind them. If they're not playing someone is going to come in and earn that spot."
Thursday's regional final tips off at 6 p.m.
Forest Park 22 26 11 6 - 65
Lake Linden-Hubbell8 2 9 6 - 25
FOREST PARK: Gussert 39, Issacson 6, Campbell 5, Nylund 5, Robarge 3, Grandahl 3, Bawyn 2, Stankewicz 2. FT: 6-12. F: 15.
LLH: E. Gast 5, Corrigan 4, Kisul 4, Audette 4, Sutherland 4, Goodell 2, Hendrickson 2. FT: 4-12. F: 11.
FG shooting - LLH: 10-40 (3-pt: 1-7); FP: 26-59 (3-pt: 6-15); 3-pt FGs - LLH: E. Gast; FP: Gussert (4), Campbell, Robarge.