Bolts take next step: Dollar Bay looks forward to rematch

Justin St. Oursi/Daily Press (Escanaba) Dollar Bay’s Connor LeClaire (13) puts up a shot around Pellston’s Kaleb Rybinski (behind) Tuesday at Escanaba.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Turn back the clock to this time last season and you would find the Dollar Bay-Tamarack City boys basketball team (23-3) in the same place that they are this year, ready for Thursday’s Division 4 semifinal matchup at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center. For the second straight season, they will face Southfield Christian (19-6).

Of course, that would not have been possible without holding on to a 67-64 win over the Pellston Hornets Tuesday in Escanaba.

“Pellston was a very good team,” said Dollar Bay coach Jesse Kentala. “We’re kind of thankful and blessed to have escaped that game.

“I thought both teams really played well. I thought it was a high-level high school basketball game. (It’s) unfortunate that someone had to lose, but we’re thankful to be heading south to East Lansing.”

With the Blue Bolts remaining on the road, Kentala addressed what he assumed the team was feeling.

“Spirits are good,” said Kentala. “We had a good practice this morning in Gaylord. (Their) coaches and administration were very accommodating for us. We’re excited. We know what’s in front of us.

“Southfield Christian is a very good, skilled team, but we’re all kind of resting (to) get ready for game day tomorrow (Thursday).”

Though the matchup is the same, Kentala and his team have had an entire year to grow as a team in preparation.

“We played them last year,” he said. “We were undefeated at that time. They beat us bad, so we’ve got something to prove. We’re coming back down here and I think we’re going to do things differently this time; hopefully be a little better.”

Having the experience last season could be seen as a blessing in disguise for the Blue Bolts.

“I think we understand what we’re getting ourselves into,” Kentala said. “I think we understand Southfield’s style a little better. They are still a dangerous team. I don’t know if they are as dangerous as last year, but they are good.”

The two schools may come from different backgrounds, but Kentala and his team have a different game plan this time around.

“It’s David versus Goliath,” he said. “They’re a private school out of Detroit (and) we’re almost the smallest public school in the state out of Dollar Bay, Michigan. We’re not going to be scared. We’re going to go at them.

“We’ve been here before and we’re going to look to do it better. We’ve got some code sheets as a staff that we’re working on (and) I think the players understand a little bit better with what they’re up against and we’ll be ready.”

Southfield likes to push the pace, something that Kentala knows his players need to be ready for.

“They’re super athletic,” he said. “They get up the floor (and) they’ve got Division I athletes on their team.

“We’re small town kids, (who are) sophomores and juniors, so we couldn’t be more different as far as the type of team that we’re playing. That’s just fine with us, We’re happy to be here and we’re not coming here just to come here for the experience; we’re looking to win.”

The Blue Bolts return to East Lansing with more clarity and ease, which they did not have last season. They feel they are ready to meet the challenge in front of them.

“Last year to this year (we have) totally different feelings,” said Kentala. “Last year it was stressful (and we had) a monkey on our backs. This year, we kind of flew under the radar and we won by being a team. We didn’t win by being individual players. It’s a team sport.

“Our guys buy into that idea. We have the chance to do something big for our community and for the Upper Peninsula.”

It is easy at this point in the season to look past the team you are playing to what awaits in the state final, but Kentala is working hard to make sure his boys are focused on the contest in front of them.

“We’re preparing only for this game in front of us right now,” said Kentala. “Southfield Christian is the favorite. They won the state championship last year. They’re in the state finals almost every year. They are a dominant power house. We’re concerned about them first. Hopefully, good things can happen and fall our way, but it’s going to take a heck of a game from us.”