North Central advances to state semis with 74-61 win over Hillman

Rob Roos/Sault News Jason Whitens of North Central (30) takes the ball to the basket, while Hillman's Brandon Banks (20) defends during a Class D boys basketball quarterfinal at Sault High School Tuesday night.

SAULT STE. MARIE — There’s no place like the Breslin Center for Jason Whitens and Marcus Krachinski.

Whitens, Krachinski and the top-ranked North Central boys’ basketball team are headed for “The Big House” again after beating third-ranked Hillman 74-61 in Tuesday’s Class D state quarterfinal game at Sault High School.

“It feels like home,” Whitens said about The Breslin, shortly after scoring a game-high 31 points against Hillman and surpassing 2,000 in his career. “You always want to go out on top your senior year. We’ve got two more games left, hopefully. We just have to attack this with the same enthusiasm.”

North Central (26-0) will face second-ranked Southfield Christian (21-5) Thursday in a 6 p.m. semifinal on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing. The Eagles rolled past Fowler 64-42 in their quarterfinal win.

Krachinski, who scored a season-high 18 points against Hillman, can’t wait to take the next step Thursday.

“It’s definitely a fun experience down there,” said Krachinski. “It’s unlike anything else. When we get a chance to get down there, it’s awesome. We have to go down there and play as hard as we have.”

Playing in the semifinals is nothing new for the Jets, who’ve captured the last two Class D state championships and enter the Southfield Christian showdown with a nation-leading 81-game winning streak.

North Central had to work for its trip to the semifinals.

Hillman was as good as advertised. The Tigers relied on trapping defenses and solid perimeter shooting.

Hillman led 5-3 early and played from behind the rest of the way. Still, North Central never got comfortable as the Tigers pulled within 60-54 with 2:44 left on Jared Juergens’ 3-pointer from the left wing.

But Krachinski answered with a triple from the left wing at the 2:23 mark and Whitens followed with three easy baskets as the Jets went up 69-55 and snuffed out any upset hopes by the Tigers.

“We made our run there,” Hillman coach Eric Muszynski said. “It looked like we were rolling again, and then like they’ve done with the nation’s longest streak, they put you away. You just try to weather-the-storm as best you can. We just had too many storms that we had to try and put out.

“My guys never quit. We played hard, I really thought we had them on the ropes with a little bit of a push, but man, experience and great guard play on their part, They got really quality shots down the stretch.”

North Central coach Adam Mercier said his team responded to Hillman’s pressure and sealed the win like a veteran team.

“Our seniors stepped up big,” Mercier said. “Krachinski hit a big 3 on the wing. That was big. They had a 6-0 mini run and Marcus answered with a big three and Jason drove for two baskets. That’s the way to respond. You need your big guys to step up. I thought we had that in the fourth quarter.”

Brandon Banks sparked Hillman with 22 points, Gunnar Libby finished with 14 points and sophomore center Kory Henigan added 11 points. Banks hit three of the Tigers’ seven 3-pointers.

Dawson Bilski totaled 11 points and Bobby Kleiman added eight points, with Seth Polfus and Lucas Dombrowski playing good defense on the perimeter for the Jets.

North Central led 20-16 in a back-and-forth first quarter as both teams came out hot — North Central making 9 of 14 shots and Hillman hitting 7 of 14.

For the game, the Jets shot 51 percent with 12 turnovers. Hillman converted 42 percent of its field goals with 10 turnovers.

The Jets kept control with a 9-2 run to open the second quarter and 29-18 lead. But the Tigers didn’t fold and answered with six straight points before trailing 34-29 at halftime.

Muszynski said the Tigers were right where they wanted to be at halftime.

“I thought the tempo of the game favored us a little bit,” he said. “Our big thing was, ‘Let’s see how much we can pressure them,’ We felt like a lot of teams don’t do that. You look at that lineup and you are kind of hesitant to do that.”

North Central outscored Hillman 12-4 in the third quarter to take a 46-33 lead into the final eight minutes. The Tigers hit 2-of-12 shots in the third quarter and North Central revved up its fast break and went inside more.

“We were taking a lot of 3-pointers in the first half and we were just missing them,” Mercier said. “But I loved the way we attacked the paint in the second half.”

A better third quarter would have helped the Tigers.

‘We had some real quality shots in the third and we just couldn’t throw it in the ocean,” Muszynski said. “Defensively, we got into some stops, we probably went about a 2-minute stretch and then they got loose on us again.

“The are a tremendous fast-breaking team. It’s probably one of the best groups I’ve been around in my high school coaching career in 12 years. They have multiple guys who can release.”

Lansing Christian (19-6) will meet Buckley (25-0) in Thursday’s 7:50 p.m. semifinal, with the two semifinal winners meeting in Saturday’s 10 a.m. state championship game.

“Our kids are excited to have a chance to play down there,” Mercier said. “Our kids have played really well on that floor. I like our kids’ focus right now. They didn’t overlook this Hillman team, they are a solid team. I was happy to come away with a hard-fought victory tonight.”

North Central 20 14 12 28 — 74

Hillman 16 13 4 28 — 61

North Central — Krachinski 18, Polfus 2, Dombrowski 4, Bilski 11, Kleiman 8, Whitens 31. FT: 5-10; F: 14; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Bilski 3, Krachinski 2.

Hillman — Funk 3, Libby 14, Banks 22, Kolcan 2, Juergens 5, Hunt 2, Wittman 2, Hovigan 11. FT: 8-10; F: 15; Fouled out: Kolcan; 3-point field goals: Banks 3, Libby 2, Funk.


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