ESCANABA - Forest Park's Austin Carlson is hitting his stride at the right time and the Trojans are benefiting.
The junior center netted 20 points, snagged nine rebounds and clogged the lane on defense to help Forest Park edge Lake Linden-Hubbell 75-60, in Monday's Class D regional semifinal in Escanaba.
Carlson, who started early in the season, was pulled from the starting line-up midway through the year, before being inserted back in for the Trojans playoff run.
"Austin has had his moments where he's struggled, we've been patient with him and the last five games he's been coming around," said Forest Park head coach Chris Nocerini. "He's going after the ball, he's catching more. He's 6-7 and he's strong and he's coming around for us."
"You set the 6-7 kid in the middle of the paint and that alters a lot of what the other team is doing."
Carlson's biggest impact came in the third period as the Trojans used a series of runs to pull away from the Lakes. Carlson scored underneath two minutes into the quarter and blocked a shot on the next possession that led to a fast break bucket by Daniel Nocerini, giving Forest Park a 46-35 lead.
Forest Park 17 23 20 15 - 75
LL-Hubbell 15 19 15 11 - 60
Forest Park - Snell 6, Krajewski 5, Nocerini 20, Johnson 5, Tomasik 4, Graff 15, Carlson 20; FT: 10-14; F: 13; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Johnson 1, Krajewski 1, Graff 1.
Lake Linden-Hubbell - Ongie 9, Monette 9, Kunnari 2, Poissant 14, Roose 24, Klein 2; FT: 9-11; F: 13; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Roose 4, Ongie 1, Poissant 1, Monette 1.
Lake Linden-Hubbell head coach Jack Kumpula said attacking the basket more has been a point of emphasis for his team all season and the surprising play of Carlson caught his squad off guard.
"Every game we watched he didn't start but apparently he's played well through the tournament and he played well again tonight," Kumpula said. "That certainly was a factor of us not wanting to get to the rim."
Carlson netted eight points in the third quarter, mostly off of lay-ups from the Trojans' press break. Lee Graff also scored eight of his 15 points in the third for Forest Park (20-3), as they extended a 40-34 halftime lead into a 60-49 advantage.
"I'd love to sit here and say I told these kids some magical coaching but that was the kids just making plays, that's all that came down to and the adjustments on defense, I believe sparked that run in the third quarter," Nocerini said.
Part of Forest Park's adjustment on defense was slowing the Lakes' Tyler Roose. The junior guard erupted for 13 first-half points, including 11 in the first quarter. Nocerini switched things up on defense and had senior Jeff Johnson guard Roose, who is Lake Linden's leading scorer. The Trojans also held Trevor Ongie scoreless in the second half, after the senior netted nine second-quarter points.
Forest Park's strong third quarter came on the heels of a 6-0 run they used to close out the first half, after Lake Linden had tied the game at 34-34 with 1:34 remaining.
"The third quarter was the difference," Kumpula said. "We came in and felt really good with where we were at, at halftime and then a couple of missed buckets here and a turnover there and the game was at 12 and we never were able to recover."
The Trojans were off and running in the fourth quarter as Johnson banked in a floater and Graff sunk a 3-pointer, following a bucket by Lake Linden's Brett Poissant. Carlson then scored back-to-back lay-ups, as the Trojans extended their lead to 69-53 with 6:03 remaining.
The Lakes threatened to cut Forest Park's lead into single digits midway through the fourth quarter as Luke Monette drained a 3-pointer and Poissant hit a pair from the line.
Graff responded for the Trojans, splitting a pair of free throws, followed by a offensive rebound and put-back from Nocerini and capped off by a pair of free throws from Austin Snell, that stretched Forest Park's lead to 74-58 with just over three minutes remaining.
Nocerini tossed in 20 points for the Trojans and coach Nocerini had high praise for the standout freshman.
"We knew he could perform on this stage, no question in my mind," Nocerini said. "His teammates just love having him on the floor with them. Great job by Daniel tonight."
Forest Park shot 56 percent and the Lakes finished at 37 percent. Roose paced the Lakes with 24 points, followed by fellow junior Brett Poissant, who netted 14 points and grabbed 11 boards. Lake Linden finishes at 19-4 on the season.
The Trojans will get another crack at North Central 24-0, who beat them 59-50 in last year's regional championship game. The Jets edged Forest Park in both regular season match-ups this season.
"I'm very excited to get back there," Nocerini said. "We left here last year, we were disappointed in the loss but the goal was to get back here. We won the district, there was excitement but we wanted to come win here again and get back to that regional final and prove that we're a team that isn't going anywhere."