Now ranked No. 1 in the state, E-TC is ready to face Dollar Bay on big stage
HOUGHTON — Jake Witt admits his first time playing on a big stage was a bit overwhelming.
It was March 13, 2017, against Rapid River in a regional semifinal in front of a packed crowd at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium, with many of those in attendance there to see the 6-foot-7 phenom.
“Last year coming in, there was so much hype and I was nervous being that junior out there,” Witt said. “I was becoming more timid after I’d miss shots, and I’ve never been on that big of a stage, so it was really a change for me.”
Those who followed Witt throughout his career could sense that something was off, and he scored just nine points and made 4 of 17 shots as Rapid River advanced 63-56.
But that experience has prepared him and E-TC (13-0) for Wednesday’s matchup against No. 1 Dollar Bay (11-0) at Michigan Tech and the major games to come. It will be just as big of a crowd at the Wood Gym, if not bigger than the one Witt played in front of at Negaunee and this time, he’s ready for it.
“I’m a lot more confident in these bigger games,” he said. “I’m ready for that challenge at Michigan Tech. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
E-TC recently earned the No. 1 ranking in the state in the latest Associated Press Class D poll while Dollar Bay sits at No. 6. Both teams are tied for the top spot in the U.P. poll.
In addition to the draw of seeing two No. 1 teams go up against each other, many across the area will come to get a look at Witt, who will be playing his first game at Tech before continuing his college career as a Husky next season. He’s also making a case as the U.P.’s best player, averaging 27.2 points and 16 rebounds per game this season despite consistently facing double and triple-teams.
But E-TC has lately made teams pay for sending multiple guys at Witt as junior Eli Nordine and eighth-grader Jaden Borseth have gotten hot from 3. Nordine made 10 of 21 (48 percent) shots from 3 during last week’s wins over Ontonagon (77-45) and Jeffers (71-41) while Borseth was 7 of 15 (47 percent).
“I’ll take (Eli) and (Jaden) shooting it anytime,” E-TC coach Brad Besonen said. “They put in enough work in the offseason in getting shots up, and you gotta trust them. If we’re going to go anywhere, we gotta trust them to hit shots. If they miss a few, you gotta go right back to them anyway.”
Wednesday’s contest will be Borseth’s introduction to a big-game atmosphere. While the pinnacle for most kids his age is a junior high tournament, he’ll be playing in front of hundreds of people. But the eighth-grader has exuded as much confidence as anyone this season and appears more comfortable as of late, having scored in double figures in each of the last six games while averaging 15.7 points during that span.
“I don’t think he ever cares who we’re playing,” Besonen said of Borseth’s confidence.
With Witt the only senior on E-TC, the Panthers will be surrendering some experience to the veteran Blue Bolts who start five seniors. E-TC starts Borseth (eighth grade), Tommy Cousineau (freshman), Cole Borseth (sophomore) and Nordine (junior) to go with Witt. Nordine scored 18 points in the loss to Rapid, and Cousineau and Cole Borseth have experience from playing in that game as well. But Besonen hopes Wednesday’s contest will help down the road.
“It’s really good for us. It’s almost like we’re cheating a little bit. We almost get a tournament-like atmosphere before the tournament, which is really cool,” Besonen said. “I think they’re ready for a big game like that. I don’t want to downplay the game, but us beating Dollar Bay really means nothing down the road. We really need to focus on beating Crystal Falls (in districts), then Bessemer and get through Wakefield. I’m way more concerned about preparing us for districts than this.
“But we are definitely going there to try to beat (Dollar Bay). But as far as hanging our season on if we win that game, absolutely not.”
LAST YEAR’S MATCHUP
Except for the addition of Jaden Borseth, the main cores from each team last season are back. In last year’s matchup, E-TC held a 43-34 lead entering the fourth before the Blue Bolts outscored E-TC 25-13 in the fourth for a 59-56 win. Dollar Bay’s Devin Schmitz scored 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, including all six points during Dollar Bay’s run for a 57-52 lead.
Witt led E-TC with 22 points and 21 rebounds, despite battling a sickness throughout the day. He scored 17 of his points in the first half.
The game was also notable because Dollar Bay’s Brandon Thompson tore his meniscus in the first half and ended up missing the rest of the season.