Return to form: Bolts heading to Breslin

Justin St. Ours/Daily Press (Escanaba) The Dollar Bay boys’ basketball team celebrates after the final buzzer Tuesday at Escanaba after defeating Pellston in a quarterfinal contest.

ESCANABA — The final 3.2 seconds of Tuesday’s Division 4 state quarterfinal basketball game could not run out fast enough for the Dollar Bay-Tamarack City boys.

After Dollar Bay sophomore Connor LeClaire sank a pair of free throws, the Pellston Hornets could only wish to get a good shot and force overtime.

Junior forward Blake Cassidy’s desperation shot from near mid-court bounced off the rim, enabling the Blue Bolts to escape with a 67-64 triumph in the Escanaba High School gym.

The victory enables the Blue Bolts (23-3) to return to Thursday’s semifinals at Michigan State University’s Breslin Central where they’ll meet Southfield Christian (19-6) for the second straight year. Game time is 5:30 p.m. The Hornets finished 23-3.

“All I knew is I had to make those free throws,” said LeClaire, who scored 14 points. “Anytime there’s a chance for an opposing player to take a shot at the end of the game like this, it feels like the longest time of your life. You just have to play the best defense of your life. One of the scariest things in sports is when you have to protect a one to three-point lead.”

Dollar Bay took a 65-61 lead on a pair of free throws by senior Brendan LeClaire with 15.2 seconds remaining.

Cassidy, however, drained a 25-foot jumper from the right wing to pull the Hornets within 65-64 with 4.8 seconds left.

“It felt like an eternity in the end,” said Dollar Bay coach Jesse Kentala. “I’m proud of the guys for playing right to the last horn. Pellston has a great shooting team. Cassidy and (Tanner) Byard are absolutely great players. We did just enough to escape.”

Pellston took its last lead, 56-53, on a 20-foot set shot by Byard with less than five minutes remaining.

Dollar Bay responded with eight unanswered points, gaining a 61-56 cushion on a 12-foot jump shot by sophomore Davin Hill with three minutes left.

Byard answered with a 3-point shot, trimming Pellston’s deficit to 61-59 at 2:41.

With 1:18 remaining, Byard appeared to tie the contest with a pair of gifters. His second shot, however, was nullified on a lane violation, leaving the score at 61-60.

Byard then tied the score by splitting a pair of free throws 11 seconds later.

Junior Ashton Janke sent the Blue Bolts ahead to stay on a layup, set up on a pass from Hill with 50 seconds remaining.

“This is what quarterfinal games are all about,” said Pellston coach Larry Cassidy. “Give all the credit to Dollar Bay. They’re young, but they don’t play young. It’s just one of those things. The toughest part of a game like this is somebody has to lose. It basically came down to one or two possessions. It depended on who made the shots and they just did. You got your $7 worth if you paid to get in.”

Hill scored 22 points and Janke added 18 for the Blue Bolts in a contest which the teams took a combined four time-outs in the last 30.4 seconds.

“Our last time-out (with 17 seconds left) is one I wasn’t sure I wanted to take,” said Kentala. “We just wanted to make sure we got organized and hit our free throws. The hardest part of understanding a game like this is the amount of effort it takes to win a game like this. We’re excited to be going back to the semifinals. I think we learned some lessons from last year (in a 71-32 loss to Southfield Christian). Hopefully, we’re going to do it better this time.”

Byard paced the Hornets with 24 points. Blake Cassidy hit 16 and senior Zavin Goodrich had 13.

“Our goal was to get here,” said coach Cassidy. “I’m not upset with the kids. They gave everything they had. I’m proud of them for playing hard to the end.”

The teams combined for 21 three-point field goals, including 12 by Dollar Bay. Both teams had nine turnovers.

Pellston 13 17 14 20 — 64

Dollar Bay 18 16 16 17 — 67

PEL: Rybinski 4, Cassidy 18, Robbins 5, Goodrich 13, Byard 24. FT: 7-16; Fouls: 14; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Cassidy 4, Byard 4, Robbins 1.

DBTC: Schmitz 3, B. LeClaire 10, Janke 18, C. LeClaire 14, Hill 22. FT: 9-14; Fouls: 13; Fouled out: none; 3-point field goals: Janke 4, C. LeClaire 3, Hill 3, Schmitz 1, B. LeClaire 1.