Dollar Bay defeats Cedarville, advances to semifinals

Dollar Bay’s Devin Schmitz goes up for a layup as Cedarville’s Trevor Kohlmann defends Tuesday in Escanaba. The Blue Bolts won 74-68 and earned a spot in the semifinals at the Breslin Center. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

ESCANABA — Two key things happened before Tuesday’s quarterfinal between Dollar Bay and Cedarville. 

First, Dollar Bay coach Jesse Kentala saw the swagger, bounce and confidence in the body language of Devin Schmitz as he went through pregame warmups. The school’s all-time leading scorer was raring to go, like a Ferrari at a red light. 

Second, before the tip, some Cedarville players engaged Schmitz in the typical trash talk that occasionally occurs between athletes in high-stakes contests. 

The first was critical because it was Kentala’s deciding factor in letting Schmitz stay in the game despite picking up two early fouls. The second? Well, that was just a bad idea. 

“They were talking to me right from the beginning. As soon as I started talking back, that’s when the rhythm came,” Schmitz said. 

Jaden Janke (standing) celebrates after Dollar Bay's quarterfinal win over Cedarville Tuesday in Escanaba. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

The war of words sparked Schmitz to an individual performance that may go down as the greatest in the history of Dollar Bay: 35 points on 11 of 17 shooting while leading his team to a 74-68 win over Cedarville in Escanaba for the school’s first-ever semifinal appearance. 

“Schmitty is cementing himself with some great performances,” Kentala said. “It kind of baffles me that he doesn’t have Division II looks yet because this kid is such a special scorer … He was a killer tonight. Love to see that edge and swagger that he’s got.”

Schmitz’s competitive drive and fearlessness have been the driving force behind this Dollar Bay group that’s been perfectly constructed with the proper pieces to make such a tournament run. There’s the other top scoring option in forward Jaden Janke (23 points and 11 rebounds); the do-it-all athletic forward in Jacob Iacono (11 points, five rebounds); Brandon Thompson’s interior defense and 3-point shooting; and Brendan LeClaire (10 rebounds), who does all the dirty work and is fine with receiving little to no praise for it.

And now they’re about to live out a childhood dream: playing at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. The Blue Bolts (26-0) will go up against No. 1 Southfield Christian (21-4) at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.

“Out of all the wins, this one is the most satisfying,” Kentala said. “These guys set a goal, and I am a firm believer that hard work is rewarded, and they’ve put in the work. It’s cool to see them reap the benefits.”

Dollar Bay’s Jacob Iacono goes up for a shot as Cedarville’s Chase Fisher defends Tuesday in Escanaba. The Blue Bolts won 74-68 and earned a spot in the semifinals at the Breslin Center. (Jason Juno/Daily Globe (Ironwood))

Kentala has served as the architect in Dollar Bay’s revival, developing this group since the fourth grade. But besides being able to grow them into some of the best basketball players in the U.P., the time spent with these kids has allowed him to read and understand his guys in any given situation. So when Schmitz picked up his second foul with 2:38 left in the first, Kentala knew he had to forgo the typical coaching route of sitting Schmitz the rest of the half and allow him to stay in the game. 

“I saw Devin warming up, and I could just see that swagger and confidence,” Kentala said. “I’ve been around him so long, I knew he was ready to go off. I wasn’t about to try to tame that lion.”

Kentala’s premonition came true. Schmitz made all seven of his shots the rest of the half, including a perfect 3 of 3 from 3-point range for 23-first-half points, finishing 9 of 10 from the field as his team took a 43-31 halftime lead. 

During two instances in the second quarter, he knifed through Cedarville’s defense with crossovers and step-throughs before contorting his body around the help defense to finish at the rim. As the ball fell through the hoop, he exclaimed, “You can’t guard me,” which was really a statement of fact more than anything. 

“I’ve been playing with Devin for a long time. I’ve never seen Devin go off like that in a first half,” Iacono said. “I was really proud to be his teammate. That was wild.”

“When Devin goes off, it allows me to relax and play my game,” Janke added. “That’s what happened tonight.”

The track meet that was predicted to take place between two uptempo teams came to fruition in the first half. Cedarville came out with its signature 2-2-1 press before settling back into a 2-3 zone, while Dollar Bay pressured full-court with its man defense before looking to trap once the Trojans crossed half-court. 

Besides some head-scratching turnovers where the ball flew out of bounds due to miscommunication, the Blue Bolts handled the pressure just fine, thriving on the fast-paced game, making 17 of 27 shots in the first half, including a 7 of 12 mark from 3-point range to eventually force the Trojans to come out of the zone in the second half. 

“We hoped that they would press us,” Kentala said. “The key was to take care of it, but attack it. We didn’t want to have silly turnovers, but we also want to make them pay for pressing us. If you’re going to put guys in the frontcourt, then we’re going to go by.”

Cedarville (21-4) just hung around for most of the night and managed to cut the deficit to single digits, 49-40, on a 3 from Dakota Fairchild, who paced the Trojans with 24 points. But Dollar Bay had an answer for every moment when Cedarville appeared poised to make a run. This time, Iacono answered with a 3 of his own and then converted a layup as he was fouled before making a free throw for a 6-0 run of his own, giving his team a 55-40 lead with 3:27 left in the third.

Iacono scored eight of his 11 points in the third quarter.

“I had a mismatch because they had a slow big on me, so it was like, ‘Let’s see what I can do,'” Iacono said.

With a double-digit lead in the fourth, Dollar Bay slowed the pace down and was methodical on offense, settling for just four shots in the quarter (2-4). With the Trojans being forced to foul, the Blue Bolts converted 14 of 18 tries from the free-throw line. 

Cedarville heaved up desperation shots in the final two minutes that found the mark. Fairchild connected on a deep 3 from the right wing before banking in another 3 from the wing, his second trimmed Dollar Bay’s lead to 70-62 with 49 seconds remaining. 

Trevor Kohlmann got in on his team’s 3-point barrage, knocking down one with 36.7 seconds left to bring the Trojans within 70-65. He would later bank in another 3 with 12 seconds left. 

But Schmitz never allowed the Trojans to get within a single possession, going 4 for 4 at the line to close the game out. 

“Good teams put that pressure on you. Credit to Cedarville,” Kentala said. “They banked two 3s in from deep, and I was looking to the heavens like, ‘What did I do wrong?’ But we were able to do just enough to get a win.”

– – –

Dollar Bay 20 23 13 18 — 74

Cedarville 17 13 14 24 — 68

Dollar Bay — LeClaire 2, Thompson 3, Schmitz 35, Janke 23, Iacono 11. Field goals: 23-44, 8-20 from 3; F: 11; Fouled out: None; Free throws: 20-28; 3-point field goals: Schmitz 4, Janke 2, Iacono, Thompson.

Cedarville — Fairchild 24, Kohlmann 8, J. Masuga 13, Fisher 6, T. Masuga 12, Norris 5. Field goals: 27-68, 10-26 from 3; F: 19; Fouled out: Norris, T. Masuga; Free throws: 4-8; 3-point field goals: Fairchild 6, Kohlmann 2, Fisher, Masuga.


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