Lakes boys make bid for history tonight

NEGAUNEE – When Lake Linden-Hubbell head coach Jack Kumpula sat down with his team in the preseason to list his team’s goals, he wrote, “Win the first ever regional championship,” on the whiteboard.

The third-year Lakes’ coach was quickly corrected-not because of setting such a lofty goal, but because LL-H (23-0) has won a regional title in the past. But forgive him for not remembering the last time LL-H hoisted a regional trophy; the year was 1932.

“In the modern era, we haven’t won a regional,” Kumpula said. “We’ve been this far in the 90’s, which was the last I was able to find. It’s been a long, long, time.”

If Kumpula and his team want to break the 83-year drought, they’ll have to beat the top-ranked North Central Jets (23-0). The Jets have been consistently ranked No. 1 in both the UPSSA and Associated Press state polls, throughout the season.

“They’re very talented; they’re very athletic,” Kumpula said of North Central. “They won a lot of games so they play well together. It’s going to be a difficult challenge for us. Plus, they have this experience of being on this stage, before.”

The Jets have won the last two regionals and are aiming to make it a three-peat. While North Central may be considered favorites, they will be tasked with trying to defend LL-H’s all-time leading scorer: Tyler Roose.

Roose became the school’s leading scorer on Feb. 17, this year, against Ewen-Trout Creek. Roose passed Dan Short, who finished with 1,211 points in 1977.

North Central head coach Adam Mercier holds Roose in such high regard, that he is altering his starting lineup for tonight’s game. Sophomore Bobby Kleiman will be inserted into the starting five for defensive purposes against Roose.

After much deliberation amongst players and coaches, the Jets came up with a comparison for Roose. North Central previously scrimmaged Gladstone, before the season, and that’s where they discovered a similarity with Roose-who scored 20 points in LL-H’s 60-42 win over the Crystal Falls-Forest Park Trojans, on Monday.

“He reminds us from Tyler Wells from Gladstone,” Mercier said. “Similar player athletic wise, body wise and how he scores. We feel with our guards, we can match up really well. We understand how to defend him by protecting the paint and contesting jump shots.”

In LL-H’s win over Crystal Falls, on Monday, the Lakes employed a 2-3 zone for the majority of the game and dared the Trojans to shoot from beyond the arc.

With North Central sporting shooters such as sophomores Dawson Bilski, Jason Whitens and senior Rob Granquist, don’t expect the Lakes to sit back in a zone, tonight.

“I don’t think we can do that. I think they’re too good,” Kumpula said about utilizing a zone defense against North Central. “I saw Crystal Falls play a couple times and didn’t think they were good shooters. North Central are good shooters and we won’t be able to play that style. That’s not our stye, and we’re not typically a zone team. We’ll have to get out a little bit and not let them shoot, then board, well.”

North Central could possibly have an extra shooter at their disposal. Sophomore Marcus Krachinski was forced to sit out 180 school days due to a transfer rule, but his 180 days have been served. He is now eligible to play, this season.

“It’s a possibility,” Mercier said about playing Krachinski. “We’re going to look at our normal rotation when we look to zone teams. We have guys who can shoot it from outside. Marcus and Ryan Whitens can come off the bench and hit that outside shot, but who knows, we haven’t seen Marcus in a regular game, all season.”

The winner of Wednesday’s regional final in Negaunee, which will start at 7 p.m. EDT, will face the winner of the St. Ignace and Hillman matchup, on Tuesday. Depending on the winner of Hillman and St. Ignace, the quarterfinal will take place in Marquette-if St. Ignace wins-or Sault Ste. Marie, if Hillman is victorious.

“These kids are energized for a chance to play for a regional championship,” Mercier said. “For some of these guys, it’s their first chance do it in the rotation. I don’t think there won’t be as many butterflies as there was on Monday night, because our rotation will be little deeper. “I’m really excited about our energy, tonight.”

Notes: Mercier said North Central sophomore Troy Ekberg (leg) will play tonight, and Mercier expects to use him in the rotation. Ekberg was hurt in the opening minutes of Monday’s regional semifinal against Munising. He returned briefly in the second quarter for a few seconds, but didn’t return afterwards.