HILLMAN- Both the Hillman (20-1) and the Onaway (17-6) boys basketball teams had the chance to make school history on Friday in the class D district championship game.
Hillman was looking for its second district title in a row; Onaway was looking for its first in 25 years.
Two minutes into the game, Hillman had a 9-2 lead off three treys between Mike Klein and Ty Jones. It was a lead the Tigers never lost as it marched on to a 72-51 win.
News Photo by Eric Benac
The Hillman boys basketball team celebrates after beating Onaway 72-51 in the Class D district final. It is the first time the Hillman boys basketball team has won back-to-back district titles.
"(This win) means the world for us, but we didn't do it for ourselves. We did it for the team and the community so this is all going out to them," Jones said.
The win matches a record for wins in a season for Hillman and the Tigers advance to a regional semifinal against Alanson at 7:30 p.m. Monday in St. Ignace.
Jones hit five three-pointers for Hillman and led with 25 points. Klein also hit double figures with 10 while Mason VanPamel hit 22.
Hillman's opening trifecta of threes seemed to pull the wind out of Onaway's sails. Normally reliable shooters like Joe O'Bradovich and Andrew Prow came up empty under Hillman' press and O'Bradovich was held to three points in the first half.
By the time VanPamel hit Hillman's fourth three pointer of the night with 51 seconds left in the first, the Tigers had taken an 18-6 lead.
"We knew they were probably going to shoot the lights out. They did it, especially in the first quarter and we dug ourselves a hole early," Onaway coach Eddy Szymoniak said.
A big part of Hillman's success came from the full court press. It was able to force steals and awkward shots that wouldn't fall. Hillman was also aggressive on rebounds as Dylan Ross competed under the basket with Carlos Bautista and O'Bradovich, who both average over 10 rebounds a game.
Bautista and O'Bradovich scored 15 points each.
Hillman outscored the Cardinals 10-7 in the second quarter to take a 28-13 lead into the second half.
Both teams played tight in the third quarter. O'Bradovich started to successfully drive to the hoop and Bautista utilized his height for rebounding. O'Bradovich scored 10 of Onaway's 14 points in the third quarter.
The Tigers' perimeter shooting skills didn't fail them in the second half: Jones hit three treys to help Hillman outscore the Cardinals 22-14 in the third and take a 50-27 lead.
Things seemed to finally click for the Cardinals early in the fourth quarter. It outscored Hillman 11-4 to narrow the Tigers lead to 54-38 with 4:37 left.
The Cardinals' defense was finally picking up the kind of blocks and rebounds that helped it dominate its opponents in the regular season, but it ran into trouble when VanPamel hit a bucket with 4:05 left to boost Hillman's lead to 58-38.
Jones picked up a steal on the Onaway inbound and put it up for the easy score. Ross got a steal immediately on the next inbound and put it up to pull Hillman into a 62-38 lead with just under four minutes left to play.
"Experience from last year's district really helped us this year. That was one thing I knew coming in that would help us," Hillman coach Eric Muszynski said. "We've been through the battles, we've been through the wars in regionals. Onaway has a great team, a good group of kids, but the fact that we've been through (districts and regionals) before really showed early on tonight."
HILLMAN (72): D. Steinke 3-5 3; D. Ross 3 0-0 6; T. Jones 10 0-1 25; M. Klein 4 0-0 10; M. VanPamel 10 1-1 22; B. Zimmer 2 0-0 4; T. Powers 1 0-0 2.
ONAWAY (51): J. O'Bradovich 6 3-4 15; J. Sigsby 3 0-1 6; C. Bautista 7 1-1 15; C. Whitsitt 1 0-0 2; A. Prow 1 0-0 3; C. Cleaver 3 2-2 8; P. Dunn 2-2 2.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.