IRON MOUNTAIN - North Central, after a 28-year absence, returns to the Class D boys basketball state quarterfinals Tuesday.
The young Jets (22-3) and experienced Cedarville Trojans (23-1) clash at 6 p.m. (Central time, doors open at 5) at Marquette High School. North Central's roster shows 10 juniors and sophomores plus one freshman but no seniors.
"I feel we're battle-tested right now," said Coach Adam Mercier after his Jets rallied past Forest Park 59-50 in the regional finals. "We've had to play some tough teams in the district and our conference is loaded this year. I feel as though we're playing up to our competition, and our competition is really good right now."
Burt Angeli/The Daily News Photos
North Central’s Trevor Ekberg goes up to block a shot by Forest Park’s Jeff Johnson in the Class D Region 32 final at Negaunee.
North Central defeated North Dickinson, another Skyline Conference member, for the district trophy.
Junior Travis Vincent's 20 points paced the Jets over the Trojans.
"Give North Central credit," Forest Park Coach Chris Nocerini said. " I wish them the best of luck. They are great representatives of our conference."
Cedarville, ranked No. 2 in the state by The Associated Press, downed Hillman 92-85 in double overtime for regional honors.
A balanced attack fueled Coach Dave Duncan's Trojans. Josh Hester, Eastern U.P. Conference Player of the Year, tallied 23 points; 15 rebounds, 10 assists and five steals. Keith Bouscher added 21 points and 11 rebounds; Dan Stenbeck, 19 points and 15 boards, and Joe Duncan, 14 points and eight assists.
"Year in, year out, you go down and watch (Cedarville) in the state finals and they're a machine, they've won seven out of the last eight regionals," Hillman Coach Eric Muszynski said. "They're just a phenomenal program and that's where we want to be."
The 1985 North Central Jets, powered by 18 points and six assists from Norway transfer Tim Bilski, knocked off unbeaten Chassell 75-68 for the Class D regional title at C.B. Hedgcock Fieldhouse. Rod Wells chipped in 17 points and six assists while Gerald Whitens and John Charles notched 16 apiece.
Coach Bob Whitens' Jets, with Wells and Whitens earning all-state that season, dumped Rudyard in the quarterfinals. However, a 33-game winning streak, which started during the Jets' 1984 state title season, came to an end with a 64-54 loss to Bridgman in the state semifinals.
North Central received strong fan backing back in 1985 and that continues today.
"The community had great support for us," Mercier said after the regional victory. "I'm happy for everyone, for the team and for our fans. They've been waiting for this for a long time, so thank you."
North Central-Cedarville winner faces Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian or Frankfort in the semifinals Thursday at MSU's Breslin Center.
(The Daily Press of Escanaba and The Evening News of Sault Ste. Marie contributed to this story)