By Justin Marietti
For The Daily News
POWERS Throughout the span of this basketball season and into the postseason, the North Central Jets have gone up against powerhouse team after powerhouse team, and they have prevailed.
When it all started and they had only won a handful of games, some thought they were too young and simply too inexperienced to make a run in the playoffs. But they did just that, and they did it in impressive fashion. Apparently they didn't feel too young to get the job done.
On Tuesday night in Marquette, the Jets were underdogs once again against the heavily favored Cedarville Trojans. It was Cedarville's seventh quarterfinal game in eight years. But once again, North Central must not have gotten the memo, as they stormed all over the Trojans for a 71-57 triumph.
"I thought we played the underdog role in real nice fashion," said Jets coach Adam Mercier. "They realized that we were playing against a great opponent and we had to play our A-game. The kids responded, and it was a fantastic team effort."
Tonight, 10th-ranked (AP) North Central looks to extend its streak of destiny against the No. 1-ranked (AP) Wyoming Tri-Unity Christian Defenders (24-2). Wyoming dismantled the Frankfort Panthers (20-6) 57-33 Tuesday night to advance into what has become rather familiar territory for their team.
The Defenders won it all in 2011, and they have been to the state finals in two of the last three years. In all of these trips, they have had this year's Class D Player of the Year, Joey Blaukamp.
Blaukamp, a six-foot senior guard for Wyoming, averages 14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and 3.5 steals a game.
"He's going to be a good matchup for us," Mercier said. "He's extremely physical and athletic, and he does everything. He plays solid man to man defense, he takes charges, and makes hustle plays. Definitely looks like a great teammate and a great leader. He can control the game."
However, Mercier added the scariest part about this team is not necessarily based on one player's numbers, but the brand of basketball they play and the things they are able to do to other teams.
"They're a formidable opponent for us," he said. "They rely heavily on their half-court defense, and they can basically lock teams down. It's going to be a different look than what we saw against Cedarville Tuesday night."
Although he acknowledged that this is an uphill battle for his team when they step onto the court at the Breslin Center tonight, he is also constantly aware that no Jets team has made it this far since 1985. They are the only team remaining in this Class D tournament that is still a public school. There is clearly a reason why this group was able to bring them back here, and he intends to focus on that.
"We are still going to play our style of basketball and try to do the things that have been working for us," Mercier said. "We've been successful in the postseason, and we're not going to change anything."
On Wednesday afternoon, the Jets stopped at Central Michigan University to get in a practice session.
Mercier said the team appeared to be relaxed, and excited to have the opportunity. However, he also knows that they are about to be under some very bright lights, and there may be a period of adjustment before they are able to relax when they enter the house that Tom Izzo built.
"I'm sure there are going to be some nerves early," Mercier said. "We have to get over the awe factor of being down there. It's going to be something that we need to get over quickly."
The Negaunee Miners also earned a win Tuesday, and they will be traveling down to play just before North Central's contest. When a team makes it this far, it's always nice to have some company when they get there.
"I hope we can represent the Upper Peninsula really well," he said. "We take pride in that. I also hope we hear some 'U.P. Power' chants."
The game can be viewed at www.MHSAA.tv
Regardless of if the Jets win or lose tonight, Mercier said that this team has surpassed his every expectation, and it happened because of their hard work and 'team-first' mentality.
"In spite of all their success they're still hungry for more," he said. "It's great to see in these young kids eyes, to want more than what we have done already."
The winner of Thursday's game will advance to play the winner of the Southfield Christian (22-4-1) and Lansing Christian (22-3) semifinal in the Class D Championships on Saturday. The title game will be televised on Fox Sports Detroit.