Underdog Dollar Bay ready to play Southfield Christian

Jaden Janke (22) and Jacob Iacono celebrate during Dollar Bay’s quarterfinal victory over Cedarville on Tuesday. The Blue Bolts play Southfield Christian today at 5:30 in the semifinals. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

EAST LANSING — Nobody outside of Dollar Bay will pick the Blue Bolts. Not when Southfield Christian has rolled its Class D opponents and is led by two players, Bryce Washington and Harlond Beverly, who will both be on a Division I campus this fall. The Eagles play — and beat — some of the best talent in the state, regardless of class. The Blue Bolts compete in the Copper Mountain Conference in the U.P.

Good luck trying to find a battle between No. 1 and No. 2 with as different backgrounds as Southfield Christian and Dollar Bay. The Eagles (21-4) were always a lock to return to East Lansing for the state semifinals, while to the rest of Michigan, Dollar Bay (26-0) is the Cinderella team and massive underdog in Thursday’s 5:30 p.m.semifinal at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. 

“They want them, they want to see how good they are,” Dollar Bay coach Jesse Kentala said about his players. “We’re not looking for autographs, we’re going to go in and play Dollar Bay basketball.

“Just like last year against North Central, we respect what they were able to do as a program, but we’re not scared of them.”

Dollar Bay played like a fearless group against the eventual state champion Jets, losing by two in the regional semis as Devin Schmitz went off for 40 points. That was the last time Dollar Bay played the underdog role. The Blue Bolts have consistently been ranked No. 1 in the U.P. and eventually No. 2 in the state all season long, 

And if the Blue Bolts truly are underdogs, some of the players don’t realize it. When told virtually all the media outlets downstate projected SC as a sure thing to win this season’s state title, Dollar Bay senior Jacob Iacono displayed a quizzical look as if to say, ‘Wait, what?’

“It bothers me,” Iacono said. “We’re a good team. We’ve been playing together for a very long time. There’s no way they’ve been playing together as long as we have.”

And then there’s Schmitz, who plays with an edge and something to prove each time he steps on the floor. He’s the last person Kentala worries about in this kind of game and is the type of kid who could have LeBron James on him and call for an isolation so he could take him one-on-one. 

“We like being the underdogs,” said Schmitz, who is averaging 27 points in the last three games, including a 35-point performance in a 74-68 quarterfinal win over Cedarville. “We like being able to come in and make an upset. I just want to play against the best. I’m not scared at all.”

The old cliche of “just play like yourselves” may apply to the Blue Bolts in this situation, but what happens if your opponent does it in a more dominant and efficient manner? Dollar Bay has run teams out of the gym with its run-and-gun approach in the open court, but the Eagles sprint, jump and play at a pace that’s unmatched by any of the schools in the U.P.

“This team plays our style, and I’m not afraid to admit that they play it better,” Kentala said. “They press, push, run and rely on skill. Don’t see them run a lot of sets, not a lot of system basketball. 

“I’m never gonna slow us down and try to tame us; don’t think we’re built that way. When we try to slow down and burn clock and “play smart” as the pundits call it, we aren’t good at that. On one hand, we’re not changing who we are — we can’t. But we’re going to have to try to play more system basketball.” 

Looking at box scores is one thing, but understanding SC’s dominance can easily be comprehended by watching the team’s highlights throughout the season. Washington and Beverly put down thunderous dunks with relative ease, while also displaying the ability to knock down 3s a few feet behind the 3-point line.

Washington (21.6 points per game) has 10 Division I offers, and Beverly (16 ppg) has offers from the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State, Xavier, Northwestern and Missouri.

“Beverly’s highlight film is something you see on a slam dunk contest in the NBA. That guy’s a freak,” Kentala said. “I don’t know how you slow them down. I don’t think you do, but I think you take away penetration off the dribble drive and make sure you know when they’re leaking out.

“They won’t just finish, they will dunk on you. We’re gonna get dunked on, we don’t care. We have to be concentrated on stopping the break and stopping penetration.”

SC went undefeated against Class D competition this season, with its only loses coming to West Bloomfield (Class A), Detroit Country Day (Class B) and Class C schools Detroit Edison and Detroit Pershing. All but West Bloomfield captured district titles, and Detroit Edison is in the state semifinals. But the game that highlights this SC team’s talent is the 68-45 win over River Rouge (Class B). It was the only loss of the season for River Rouge, who was ranked No. 2 in the state at the time and will also take part in the state semifinals this weekend.

“We understand they’re talented and a great basketball team that’s had success against all classes, but we’re a good team, too,” Kentala said, “We’re excited to play this level of competition. Any athlete wants to compete and play at the highest level.”