HOUGHTON - A pair of local dark horses ride into the regional round of the MHSAA boys' basketball tournament tonight and find they're not the only ones of their color in the stable.
Chassell goes from the cozy confines of its Ed Helakoski Memorial Gym to the biggest high school stage in the U.P., Lakeview Memorial Gym in Negaunee. The Panthers will face Forest Park in the second of two Class D regional semifinals tonight.
Chassell (11-9) is back in the regionals for the first time in nearly a decade after knocking off Lake Linden-Hubbell Friday night.
"I was really happy to see our perseverance. I think we've had it all year, but I think it was nice to see it pay off for them," Chassell coach Steve Spahn said.
The Trojans (14-8) edged a Ewen-Trout Creek squad without star guard Dillon Gordon for a 63-57 win Friday at Bessemer.
Against an athletic team with postseason experience, albeit much of it on the gridiron, Spahn pointed to the glass as a place where the game could be decided.
"We're going to need to be sharp in our rebounding department for sure. Crystal Falls is an athletic team with good size and they're aggressive on the boards," he said.
It's true that not many people expected the Panthers to be in this position, but Spahn said his team isn't the only underdog left in the U.P., noting that the No. 2 (Carney-Nadeau), 4 (Brimley) and 5 (Bessemer) teams in the final U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association poll are already out of the running and that his team won't back down to anyone.
"We're not going down there just to play the game. We're going down there with the goal of winning," Spahn said.
The winner tonight will play either U.P. No. 3 North Central or Superior Central for the regional title Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Houghton Gremlins were certainly a secondary favorite in their Class C district at L'Anse, but almost no one would have picked their opponent tonight in Escanaba, the Norway Knights.
The Knights are 7-13 and lost eight consecutive games in mid-season, but they defeated Stephenson in the semifinals last Monday, then upset WestPAC co-champion West Iron County 50-45 Wednesday in the district final.
A big key for Houghton will be putting Norway's offense back into hibernation. The Knights failed to score 30 points in five games this season, including a 62-27 defeat to those same Wykons in Norway Feb. 11.
Senior John Grayvold, Jr. led the Knights with 20 points in the title game.
"It's going to be, I think, a very good ballgame, we're both teams that have senior players who really want the 'W,'" coach Jared Lawson said after Friday's district title game win over Ironwood.
The winner of that game will face either Harbor Springs (11-11) or the U.P.'s big favorite, Negaunee (22-1), the No. 1 team in the last UPSSA poll.