By Justin Marietti
For The Daily News
NEGAUNEE The North Central Jets and the Forest Park Trojans will square off tonight in Negaunee, and one team will leave as the Class D regional champion. Both teams return to Negaunee for the second time this week, and both had to endure big tests Monday night, edging their opponents by only a few points.
Paul Gerard Photo
Forest Park’s Jeff Johnson drives to the hoop during Monday’s Class D regional semifinal against Chassell at Negaunee High School. Johnson led the Trojans with 17 points in the 49-47 win.
The Jets (21-3) were facing elimination, and the Superior Central Cougars held two leads in the fourth quarter. But the team pulled together, focusing on the tangibles that brought them this far, and pulled out the 64-61 triumph.
"They had the momentum, and we were on our heels going into that fourth quarter," said Jets coach Adam Mercier. "It was the first time in all the postseason that we've been behind in the fourth, and we had to show some resilience. It really shows that we've developed some mental toughness over the last few weeks, and I hope it continues to allow us to be successful."
Although his team is compiled of underclassmen, Mercier said he hopes that after all they have achieved and endured as a team, they can finally be considered seniors.
"We're playing a lot of tough teams, and we've broken a lot of hearts over the last week or two," he said. "These guys are basically third-year seniors. They see teams being eliminated, and they realize that they will be in that position next year. They're trying to take advantage of this chance so it doesn't pass them by."
Monday was the first regional game North Central has won since 1994. The last time the team won the regional title was 1985, and after the year they've put together, they feel pretty good about their chances to bring another trophy back to Powers. They played Forest Park (15-8) twice during the regular season, winning handily both times. But the last thing they are going to do is count their eggs before they hatch.
"We are not overlooking them what-so-ever," Mercier said. "They are going to come in hungry. I don't feel they played their best game either time they played us. We're going to expect their best punch. They are looking forward to it, so we need to come in prepared and ready for a physical battle."
The Trojans took on Chassell Monday night, and they came away with the 49-47 victory.
"That's what happens," said Trojans coach Chris Norcerini. "We couldn't pull away from them. In games like that, it can come down to whoever has the ball last. It made for a long evening."
According to Norcerini, when his guards are playing well, the team seems to move more and feed off of their performance. As a whole, this is one of the most clutch groups he's been able to coach. And when someone needs to step up and hit a big shot, they are all willing and able.
"It was Jeff Johnson on Monday," he said. "We were down one, and he hit a big three-pointer. We just didn't stop battling. They didn't give up and they just played tough."
He added that his team is going to have to play some of their best basketball to get past North Central.
"They are a well-oiled machine," he said. "Most teams we face have two scorers. They have five kids that could have a 20-point night on any given night. It's the same story on their defensive end too."
Norcerini said that part of the Jets' success is due to their depth, and that their bench can pick up where the starters left off. He mentioned Caleb Martin, saying he doesn't play like a freshman because of the level of confidence he exhibits every night.
"It's going to be a tall task for our players to go out there and beat this team," he said. "I can't say enough about the job Adam does with that team."