No. 1 Dollar Bay holds off No. 4 Rapid River 63-60 in regional semifinal

Dollar Bay’s Devin Schmitz celebrates after his team’s 63-60 regional semifinal win over the Rapid River Rockets Monday in Negaunee. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

NEGAUNEE — This is exactly how the Blue Bolts like it. They like the bright lights, the back-against-the-wall situations, the moments that seem too big for a little Copper Country school like Dollar Bay.

So when things looked somewhat bleak on Monday in Negaunee, coach Jesse Kentala didn’t panic. There was nothing to panic about. Dollar Bay remained relaxed when Jacob Iacono picked up his third foul in the first half, when Jaden Janke fouled out with 21 seconds to play, and even when Rapid River took a one-point lead with 1:21 left in the game.

And eventually, the team could really relax, as the high-pressure contest came to a close and the Blue Bolts emerged with a 63-60 victory over Rapid River, earning a spot in the regional final against Carney-Nadeau Wednesday at 7 p.m.

“I don’t know if it’s seniors, I don’t know if it’s disposition, I don’t know if it is that team mentality, and sometimes it is just stubbornness. Whatever you want to say, but they do seem to have a way of being able to pick it up when we need to,” Kentala said. “Down the stretch, we made enough plays, enough little things … We weren’t perfect, but we did enough.”

Rapid River (19-4) trailed the entire contest, but with 1:21 left in the game, Lucas Sundling rose up for a 3 and gave the Rockets their first lead of the night.

It seemed like perfect timing, like the momentum that had been building all period was coming to fruition, but still, Kentala didn’t worry.

Instead, the coach called a timeout and drew up a play for Janke. The Rockets were playing Devin Schmitz tight, so he wasn’t an option. Instead, Kentala went with a pick-and-roll between Janke and Iacono.

It worked, and Janke converted a contested layup for a 59-58 lead with 56 seconds to play.

“We haven’t been in a lot of close games this season, so it was nice to see the composure from the guys and the composure from the coaching staff,” Kentala said. “We just thought it through and said, ‘Well, ‘Devin is getting bottled up it’s time to go to a different guy.’ That is the luxury of this team, we can go to a different spot, and Jaden was the guy.”

Cameron Williamson would get the Rockets back within one on the following possession, but Brendan LeClaire made it a three-point game once again when he hit a pair of free throws with 18 seconds to go.

On the next possession, Rapid River got a clean look from beyond the arc, but it didn’t fall. Coach Rich Poma wanted one of his players to drive to the basket, hoping for a quick 2 or a foul, and if that didn’t work, a high screen for a 3 was the next option.

The Rockets got their second choice, and the Blue Bolts got the win.

Dollar Bay (24-0) opened the game on a 22-12 run, fueled by Schmitz, who ended the first quarter with eight points and two assists. When it comes to Schmitz, there is just something about Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium. Last season, he had 40 points in Dollar Bay’s loss to North Central, and this time, he had 26, playing a key part in the win.

But despite appearances, Devin Schmitz is not immortal. He is still a high-school kid, who feels the emotions of a big stage.

“I was nervous this game, my legs were shaking a lot,” he said. “I was shaking last year, too, I was more nervous last year than this year. I guess it is scary knowing that it might be your last game.”

Schmitz did everything he could to make sure it wasn’t the Blue Bolts’ last game, and Rapid River couldn’t find an answer for him.

“Devin is so smooth with the ball, shifty left and right, so he was a tough matchup for us,” Poma said. “We might have been able to go to a zone earlier, like we did in the third quarter, just to try and keep the ball away from him a little bit more. But to try and deny that all game long is just impossible … You have to hope you get him on an off night.”

In the third quarter, Dollar Bay led 38-32 when Schmitz’s defender hit a shot, and started talking to the Dollar Bay senior: big mistake.

Schmitz went on a run of his own, scoring eight of Dollar Bay’s next 10 points for a 48-35 lead with 55 seconds left in the third.

“He kind of fueled me a little bit because he made a shot and he screamed in my face, so every time I scored, I would scream in his face,” Schmitz said with a smile.

While Schmitz led the offense, Brandon Thompson anchored Dollar Bay’s defense. He was tasked with guarding Logan Hardwick in the paint, a player Kentala was worried about prior to the contest.

Thompson held Hardwick to nine points.

“Hardwick is a great player, and Brandon just stood his ground all night long,” Kentala said.

Rapid River made a big push in the fourth, outscoring Dollar Bay 20-15, but the Rockets couldn’t recover from the speed that allowed Dollar Bay to take a 10-point lead in the first quarter.

“I thought we matched up OK, but they are very fast,” Poma said. “I could maybe go one or two deep on the bench, there were a couple of other guys that I wanted to get in there that were good shooters, but they were a little bit slower defensively, so I couldn’t. Their first five are too fast for us.”

Rapid River was led by Sundling, who finished with 21 points.

– – –

Dollar Bay 22 7 19 15 — 63

Rapid River 12 14 14 20 — 60

Dollar Bay — LeClaire 8, Thompson 10, Schmitz 26, Janke 9, Iacono 10. F: 16; Fouled out: Janke; Free throws: 13-16; 3-point field goals: Thompson 2, LeClaire 2.

Rapid River — Lucas Sundling 21, Tyler Sundling 7, Hardwick 9, Willemsen 9, DeMars 6, LaCasse 8. F: 15; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 3-10; 3-point field goals: Lucas Sundling 3, LaCasse 2.