No. 2 E-TC hits big shots to survive Forest Park

Ewen-Trout Creek’s Ryan Driesenga, left, and Jaden Borseth celebrate after a 46-45 overtime win over Forest Park in a Class D District 127 opener Monday in Ewen. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

EWEN — Jaden Borseth’s struggles were a lot like Ewen-Trout Creek’s struggles as a team in Monday night’s Class D District 127 tournament opener against Forest Park.

He had struggled offensively — against the good defense from Forest Park — in his first district game while battling an illness that was affecting a good chunk of the team.

Copper Mountain MVP Jake Witt was as sick as any of them. But as much as the eighth-grader was frustrated with himself, Witt wasn’t with him. During a timeout inside of two minutes as the Panthers were fighting against hope to save their special season, Witt talked to him.

” ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re going to hit some big shots,’ “ E-TC coach Brad Besonen said he overheard. “And lo and behold, the kid ends up hitting the huge shot.”

Borseth’s long 3 from the wing tied the game E-TC had no business tying and ultimately forced overtime, where it was Witt’s turn to come up huge on the court. The Panthers won in stunning fashion, 46-45 Monday night, after starting the fourth quarter down by 12 points. They advance to play at Bessemer in a district semi Wednesday night.

Forest Park scored the game’s first 12 points and the margin was still a dozen heading into the fourth quarter. It looked for some time, most of regulation, honestly, like a combination of the flu and the always-tough Trojans were going to bring them down on the first night of the tournament.

But the Panthers won.

“They’ve been a hard-nosed stubborn group,” Besonen said. “They don’t like to lose. Even when we haven’t played well this year, they’ve just found a way. I think somebody’s looking out for this team. That was special.

“I still can’t believe we ended up pulling that thing out.”

Make no mistake, these guys were sick. Witt had 15 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks, all while battling the flu. But they didn’t give up.

“It was rough, we were all sick,” Witt said. “Our young guys, their first time in the big district atmosphere, I had confidence we’d all put it together.”

They chipped away at the lead in the fourth quarter. Borseth went to the line with 54.3 on the clock and calmly made two free throws to make it a one-possession game for the first time since the start of the game, 41-38.

But all night whenever something good happened, Forest Park seemed to have an answer. It got one of its best free throw shooters to the line, Riley Hendrickson, and he answered with two and it was 43-38. E-TC’s Eli Nordine got to the hoop for a quick bucket to again get it to one possession, 43-40. This time E-TC didn’t foul Hendrickson and it paid off with them missing the front end of a 1-and-1. 

That’s when Nordine kicked it out to Borseth, who hit the biggest shot of his young career, to tie the game at 43. Forest Park called timeout with 11.4 seconds left, but couldn’t get a shot to go and overtime never felt so good as it did in Ewen Monday night.

Asked if he felt the pressure on the final shot, Borseth said no.

“I stepped up and I hit it,” Borseth said. “It was like a regular shot.”

Yeah right.

“Thinking he could be playing on junior high this season and he’s hitting big shots in the tournament is something crazy,” Witt said. “He’s going to be a special player.”

It’s tough to argue that Witt is the best player in the U.P. on the court now, but his leadership in giving Borseth a boost of confidence in the final minutes of the game was just as important.

“That isn’t normal for teams to have a senior leader in what could be his last game the way things were going, see an eighth-grade kid out on the floor really struggling — a lot of times that senior might go up to him and say, ‘Give me the ball,'” Besonen said. “We’ve got Jake telling him, ‘You’re going to hit a big shot, you’re going to hit some big shots.’ I told Jake giving him that kind of confidence to shoot the ball makes him shoot the ball a lot easier than if he’s hard on him or maybe giving him ugly looks because he’s a young kid.”

There was very little scoring in overtime. A Witt free throw gave E-TC its first lead of the game, but Forest Park retook the lead on a Jacob Frisanco bucket. 

Then both offenses totally dried up, including another Forest Park’s miss on the front end. 

It looked as if E-TC might have to foul again, but the Trojans turned it over with 33 seconds left. 

Only needing a 2 this time, it was all about getting the ball to Witt. His 12-footer from the side of the basket with about 11 seconds to go gave E-TC the 46-45 lead.

“We set up a triple stagger for him to come to the ball and just get it to him,” Besonen said. “It was just get it to him, it didn’t really matter where. We ended up getting it there. It didn’t come off clean, they defended him really well. He took that pull-up and I tell you what, he’s scored at the end of our big games with confidence.”

Witt was less confident about it once it left his hand, but it dropped.

“They were playing tough defense, one guy on me,” Witt said. “I pulled up and it looked a little bit off, but it went in.”

The game certainly wasn’t done yet, but Witt had one more big play in him, blocking the potential game winning shot by Forest Park’s Josh Logan, protecting the rim and protecting their season like he has done so well.

“I knew I had to do something to try to change the shot because he was driving hard and had his guy beat,” Witt said. “That was for the game, so I had to try to stop him somehow. I was shifting down in the paint from my guy from the free-throw line, getting on the help-side defense. I got it clean.”

The loose ball still went to Forest Park and Hendrickson got a clean look from distance that didn’t go.

“I had my fingers crossed on that last shot by Hendrickson because that was dead on line, it just didn’t have enough on it,” Besonen said.

Forest Park was shorthanded as well, without perhaps its top player in Max Nylund (broken hand). But it was still a handful, toughened by its schedule, and perhaps E-TC had a bit of nerves as well.

“I don’t care what anybody says when you’re the favorite team after a nice regular season, that can be tough on young kids sometimes,” Besonen said.

E-TC (19-1) now shifts its focus to Bessemer Wednesday night. The Panthers will need to make sure others get involved when defenses focus so hard on Witt and Nordine like Forest Park did. 

Mostly, they just need to get healthy. 

Perhaps a win like Monday night’s is the best medicine you can find.

– – –

CFFP 12 14 11 6 2 — 45

E-TC 5 10 10 18 3 — 46

CFFP — Connor Bortolini 11, Riley Hendrickson 7, Josh Logan 12, Tommy Showers 2, Jacob Frisanco 10, Jonah Logan 3. FTs: 2-4. Fouls: 11. Fouled out: None. 3-pointers: Bortolini 3, Hendrickson 1, Josh Logan 1, Frisanco 1.

E-TC –Tommy Cousineau 6, Eli Nordine 6, Cole Borseth 10, Ryan Driesenga 2, Jaden Borseth 7, Jake Witt 15. FTs: 4-7. Fouls: 9. Fouled out: None. 3-pointers: C. Borseth 3, Cousineau 2, Witt 2, J. Borseth 1.