Dollar Bay battles No. 1 North Central to the end in memorable 75-73 defeat
NEGAUNEE — They almost did it.
Hell was beginning to form icicles, and pigs were sprouting wings. But the Dollar Bay Blue Bolts came a basket shy of pulling off the biggest upset in the state of Michigan.
After 32 dramatic minutes, North Central fans could finally exhale. The top-ranked Jets extended the nation’s longest current winning streak to 79 games and will continue on their quest for a third consecutive state title after surviving an inspired performance from the Blue Bolts, 75-73, Monday in a Class D 24 Region semifinal at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee.
“Our guys were resilient,” North Central head coach Adam Mercier said. “We battled through a lot of adversity.
“All those things considered, we won a regional game. We don’t care if it’s two or 20, it’s all about advancing and surviving.”
Oh, but did Dollar Bay (19-5) push the Jets (24-0) in ways they have not been challenged this season. Dollar Bay junior Devin Schmitz put on an offensive clinic that had locals and fans from both teams buzzing after they saw him score 40 points on 12 of 21 shooting (5 of 9 from 3).
To put Schmitz’s 40 in perspective, North Central held entire teams to 40 points or less in 12 games this season.
“I’d like to say it was coaching, but it was Devin being Devin,” Dollar Bay head coach Jesse Kentala said of Schmitz’s performance. “Devin loves the bright lights. Before the game, we knew he’d have to have a game where we’d have to rely on him, and he was fearless — absolutely fearless. I can’t say enough of the performance he put in on a bum ankle.”
Schmitz suffered a left ankle injury on Wednesday against the Jeffers Jets in a district semifinal. Since then, he’s been taking precautionary measures, soaking his foot in warm water and Epsom salt and consistently icing while keeping the ankle elevated. Sunday, he used crutches to go to Taco Bell to keep weight off it. And on Monday morning, his girlfriend drove him to school due to his inability to drive, thanks to the ankle.
“My shot was absolutely on tonight,” Schmitz said. “I still can’t believe it. I knew I was hot tonight, but I didn’t know I was 40-points kind of hot.”
The 40 points are Schmitz’s second-highest scoring output this season. He had 43 in a 66-57 win over the Hancock Bulldogs on Feb. 21.
Dollar Bay’s “You have arrived moment” came near the end of the second quarter. With Schmitz dribbling at the top of the key, he executed two crossovers before hitting a midrange jumper while being fouled by North Central senior Jason Whitens. The free throw after the basket capped Dollar Bay’s 13-2 run and tied the game at 30 with 2 minutes, 12 seconds left in the second quarter. And the foul was Whitens’ third, forcing him to sit the remainder of the first half. It was here when the packed gym started to believe Dollar Bay had a chance.
“Once Whitens got on me, I just wanted to see what he was like,” Schmitz said of the reigning Class D Player of the Year and a candidate for this year’s Mr. Basketball award. “We called an iso play for me, so I crossed him and got the and-1 on it.”
Schmitz hit another pull-up jumper to give the Blue Bolts a 32-31 edge with 1:03 left in the first half, and he would finish with 23-first-half points.
Both teams would go into halftime tied at 34 after North Central senior Seth Polfus made 1 of 3 free throws after he was fouled while attempting an 80-foot 3 before the buzzer sounded.
Then, North Central’s speed and athleticism took over.
The Jets came out of halftime and answered their first adverse situation of the season the way you would expect the No. 1 team in the state to respond. Utilizing increased defensive pressure, the Jets forced the Blue Bolts into nine turnovers in the third quarter after Dollar Bay had just one turnover in the first half.
The miscues led to layups for North Central, and the Jets capped a 16-2 run to start the second half on a fast-break alley-oop dunk off the backboard from senior Bobby Kleiman to Whitens for a 50-36 lead. At the end of the third, North Central led 59-43 after shooting 12 of 19 in the quarter.
“North Central is the fastest team we’ve seen in person,” Kentala said. “The tape doesn’t do it justice. By the time we’re pressing up, they’re scoring layups on us.
“We lost our composure in the third quarter. It’s disappointing since we were fired up at halftime. We didn’t plan on making a lot of adjustments. We knew they were going to come out and press and pressure us, and we just didn’t take good care of the ball. Our spacing was bad and we started getting mixed up. Our guards and forwards were kind of all over the court like open gym.”
Whitens’ dunk was the exclamation point during the part of the contest where he seemingly took over the game, scoring 13 of his 18 in the third.
Kleiman led the Jets with 27 points and shot an efficient 13 of 15 as he consistently attacked the basket and scored with ease. As a team, North Central shot 31 of 49 (63 percent) and was an absurd 28 of 34 (82 percent) inside the 3-point line.
“I think having two studs like Jason and Dawson (Bilski), (Dollar Bay) was really glued to them tonight,” Kleiman said. “I think that really opened the lanes for me to drive tonight. I don’t think I took many shots, it was all in the lane driving.”
With a combination of pride and stubbornness, Dollar Bay overcame one of North Central’s signature runs and continued to chip away at the Jets’ lead. Junior Jaden Janke scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth on 4 of 5 shooting, including two 3s. Janke completed a 3-point play off a Jets turnover to cut North Central’s lead to 70-64 with 1:25 remaining.
Down the stretch, North Central went 5 of 7 at the free-throw line to secure the victory. Schmitz was fouled on a 3 that went in, but it was ruled that the ball hit the wire above the backboard. Instead of having an opportunity at a 4-point play, he swished all three free throws and North Central led 74-70 with seven seconds left.
To close the game, Whitens added a free throw, and Schmitz drilled a 3 at the buzzer to finish with 40 points.
“Outstanding game. I thought it was a classic as far as games that I’ve been a part of,” Kentala said. “Our guys dug in. I don’t know what else to say, I’m just super proud of their effort.”
Dollar Bay shot 25 of 57 (44 percent) and was 8 of 22 from 3 (36 percent).
North Central held a 27-26 edge on the glass.
The Jets will play the Rapid River Rockets Wednesday at 7 p.m. for the regional championship. Rapid River defeated the Ewen-Trout Creek Panthers 63-56 in the other regional semifinal.
North Central 21 13 25 16 — 75
Dollar Bay 15 19 9 30 — 73
North Central — Krachinski 8, Polfus 6, Dombrowski 1, Bilski 15, Kleiman 27, Whitens 18. F: 15; Fouled out: None; Technical: Adam Mercier; Free throws: 10-18; 3-point field goals: Kleiman, Bilski, Polfus.
Dollar Bay — LeClaire 2, Iacono 9, Schmitz 40, Janke 19, Klobucarich 3. F: 19; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 15-16; 3-point field goals: Schmitz 5, Janke 2, Klobucarich.