Dollar Bay captures first regional title since ’79 with dramatic 65-64 victory over C-N

Brendan LeClaire (center) holds the Class D Regional trophy as Dollar Bay celebrates its 65-64 win over Carney-Nadeau on Wednesday in Negaunee. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

NEGAUNEE — Eight years led to this. 

Since his senior core was in the fourth grade, Jesse Kentala coached and groomed his young band of Blue Bolts, traveling around the area for elementary tournaments while hanging on to the belief that this group had the potential to be special. 

He taught them the fundamentals and basic principles of basketball, and they responded with tournament titles all through junior high before eventually making a name for themselves in the U.P. with a No. 1 ranking and back-to-back district championships. 

That long and successful path was part of a plan of preparing them for moments like this. A regional title up for grabs against a renowned Carney-Nadeau program in front of a packed Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium on Wednesday. 

And eight years of work all came down to a Beau Koffman 3-pointer. 

The Dollar Bay Blue Bolts pose with their regional championship trophy after defeating Carney-Nadeau 65-64 Wednesday in Negaunee. (Jesse Kentala/Daily Globe)

Jake Polfus thought it was in, leaping along the sideline while the ball was in the air as if he was trying to will it through the hoop. 

Devin Schmitz and Jaden Janke feared the worst. 

Kentala had his eyes closed.

By the time the Dollar Bay coach could look, Koffman’s 3 had rimmed around the basket and out — a matter of inches was the difference between pure elation and the utter despair of defeat. Final: Dollar Bay 65, Carney-Nadeau 64. 

March. Madness. 

Dollar Bay's Jaden Janke shoots over Carney-Nadeau's Jason Kirschner during Dollar Bay's 65-64 regional championship win Wednesday in Negaunee. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe)

“I’m at a loss for words,” said Janke, who led Dollar Bay with 23 points. “I don’t know what to say. I’m just so happy for our guys and our community. It’s been the goal from the beginning, and tonight we trusted each other and just got the job done.”

Make some space, 1979 Bays, the Blue Bolts just joined you as the school’s lone regional champions in dramatic fashion, coming out on top of a back-and-forth contest that saw eight lead changes in the fourth quarter.

“When kids put in that much time and effort in the offseason in the gym, weight room and this much time shooting a ball at a rim for this much of their lives, you like to see kids get rewarded,” Kentala said. “The best thing I can say is I’m really happy for the kids. It’s not about me, it’s about the work they put in. They deserve it. I’m so happy for them.”

No better event in prep sports is better at showcasing both ends of the emotional spectrum. As one team hoists a trophy in the midst of fans and cheers, the other sideline is filled with teary-eyed teenagers as they attempt to console each other while dealing with the inevitability of their season coming to an end. That was C-N (16-8). The Wolves delivered their best shot at the No. 1 team in the U.P., and it was just short — by the slimmest of margins. 

“It looked good, and he had all the confidence in the world,” Polfus said of Koffman’s shot off the catch from near the top of the key. “He caught it, shot it and did everything right. It was a like an inch the wrong way. 

“I told them in the locker room that whether you’re a freshman or senior, we want you shooting that shot every single time.” 

If Schmitz and Janke hadn’t already cemented themselves as two of the best players ever at Dollar Bay, Wednesday’s performance left no room for debate. Janke’s 23 points and Schmitz’s 20 came at all the critical junctures. Together, the two scored Dollar Bay’s last 19 points, including 13 in the fourth, answering each C-N basket to put their team back ahead down the stretch.

“That’s Dollar Bay folklore right there,” Kentala said. “That’s the stuff the oldies are going to talk about for years to come. To have two seniors, two All-U.P. players and two all-state players, in my opinion, to step in and go to work when we need them, that’s what great basketball players do.”

When C-N took its first lead of the fourth on a 3 from senior Jake Kleiman, Janke answered with the first of three layups against C-N’s 3-2 zone that would put his team ahead by one each time. 

Then it was Schmitz’s turn. 

He swished a 3 from the left wing for a 61-59 lead, but Koffman would answer with a 3 to put the Wolves back ahead 62-61. But after watching Dollar Bay (25-0) make 5 of 8 shots against his 3-2 zone, Polfus called a timeout and decided to go back to the man defense his team used in the first half. If C-N was going to lose, it was going to do so with what got them there. 

“The zone was starting to fall apart a little bit,” Polfus said. “I thought Dollar Bay was getting comfortable, and I just thought we were better in our man at that point.”

And if Dollar Bay was going to lose, so be it, but it was going to go down with the ball in the hands of the school’s all-time leading scorer. Ever since those elementary tournaments with this group, this is how it was down the stretch: Schmitz attempting to close it out. 

“We went 1-4 low and said, ‘Devin, go do your thing,’ “ Kentala said. 

Schmitz sized up his defender with a series of hesitation and shimmies before attacking the basket and drawing a foul. He swished both free throws for a 63-62 lead.

With 2:14 left, Schmitz attempted a mid-range step-back jumper and C-N was called for a foul. The two free throws by Schmitz made it 65-62 and were the final points of the night for Dollar Bay.

“That’s when I started trying to get to the rim to get fouls,” Schmitz said. “I knew their team was in foul trouble, so I just tried to attack.”

Kleiman and senior Preston Lauscher each led C-N with 18 points. Kleiman scored 13 of his 18 in the second half while converting 6 of 7 shots during that span. He trimmed Dollar Bay’s lead to 65-64 following Schmitz’s last pair of free throws. 

But on C-N’s last possession, Kentala made a switch and put Schmitz on Kleiman after the C-N guard killed Dollar Bay in the mid-range and around the rim. But Schmitz cut off Kleiman’s final drive attempt near the lane, forcing the kick-out to Koffman. 

“We made the right switch when we had to,” Kentala said. “We wanted to do it earlier, but Devin was in foul trouble and Jake (Iacono) was in foul trouble … Kleiman was gashing us. Devin did a great job of moving his feet and staying in front of him.”

There was perhaps some doubt by those in attendance that they would get such a finish, considering Dollar Bay’s start. The Blue Bolts blitzed the Wolves, making 9 of their first 15 shots for a 22-8 lead as the Wolves started 1 of 14 from 3-point range. 

But C-N would make four of its next six 3s before finishing 5 of 20 from 3 in the first half as it trailed 38-31. 

“When Dollar Bay starts games, they’re very, very fast and very aggressive,” Polfus said. “I told the kids we had to withstand that, and I thought we did a better job attacking.

“That’s where the confidence comes in. We were passive in the first half where we were just taking our outside shots. In the second half, we were a lot more aggressive.”

C-N finished 24 of 54 from the field (44 percent) after converting on 13 of 23 attempts in the second half, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. 

Overall, Dollar Bay made 23 of 48 shot attempts (48 percent) as C-N’s 3-2 zone to start the third quarter slowed the Blue Bolts’ offensive attack, only allowing them to make 5 of 12 shots after going 14 of 26 in the first half. 

But Dollar Bay was able to develop a rhythm with finding Janke in the high post to start the fourth quarter; he made 3 of his 4 attempts to eventually force C-N back into a man defense.

“We were prepared for a zone,” Kentala said. “We like it, we don’t get scared of zones because we can shoot the ball, and we really like Jaden scoring from the high post. He was a man in there.”

Next, Dollar Bay will face Cedarville in a quarterfinal matchup Tuesday in Escanaba at 7 p.m. It’s Dollar Bay’s final test to prove itself as the best team in the U.P. The Blue Bolts have already captured the Copper Country’s first regional title since 2008. So for at least 2018, the Central U.P. can’t knock the best team from the CC.

“This just shows a lot about the basketball where we live,” Janke said. “It’s not soft. We can play, and we have our years.”

– – –

Dollar Bay 18 20 14 13 — 65

Carney-Nadeau 8 23 16 17 — 64

Dollar Bay — LeClaire 10, Schmitz 20, Janke 23, Iacono 12. F: 10; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 16-17; 3-point field goals: Schmitz 2, Janke.

Carney-Nadeau — Corrigan 3, Kleiman 18, Lauscher 18, LaFord 9, Koffman 6, Kirschner 10. F: 15; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 7-11; 3-point field goals: Lauscher 3, Koffman 2, Corrigan, Kleiman, LaFord, Kirschner.


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