ST. IGNACE - It's hard to blame the Hillman boys basketball team if it's feeling a touch of deja vu going into Wednesday night's 7 p.m. regional game against Cedarville in St. Ignace.
After all, it was in last year's regional final in Pellston that the Tigers nearly upset the No. 2 Trojans when they led for three quarters and forced two overtime periods because of last second heroics from Mason VanPamel. Hillman ultimately lost, 92-85.
This year, No. 8 Hillman (21-1) is not the new kid in town and No. 6 Cedarville (21-2) isn't likely to get blindsided by the Tigers like it did last year.
"I thought watching (Cedarville beat Rudyard in the regionals), that they looked a bit better than they did last year. But we do too," Hillman coach Eric Muszynski said. "We've improved steadily. I think that if we can handle their press like we did last year, we'll be OK."
If the Tigers want to pull off the upset and win the first boys basketball regional championship in school history, it's going to have to stick with what it does best: three-point shots and the full-court press.
Hillman relies heavily on the sharp shooting skills of players like Ty Jones, Gunnar Libby, Mike Klein and Mason VanPamel. These players know how to drain treys to pull far ahead of opponents.
Who:?No. 8 Hillman boys basketball team.
What: Regional final against No. 6 Cedarville.
When:?Tonight, 7 p.m.
Last year, Hillman lived and died by its three-point shot. This year, it has improved its inside game and relies on players like Dylan Ross and Brenden Zimmer knowing how to box out successfully for the rebound and putback shot.
And the Tigers are going to have to maximize their rebound capabilities if they want to overcome the Trojans height advantage. They have nine players who are 6-0 or taller.
Key among these tall players are junior Brad Causley (6-3) and senior Dan Stenback (6-5). Both average double-digits in scoring and rebounding and are the most consistent threat on the Trojans team.
"I think we need to focus a bit more on rebounding. With the size with Stenback and Causley on the inside, if we don't box out and get five guys bashing on the defensive end, we'll struggle a little bit," Muszynski said.
Both Hillman and Cedarville utilize consistent full court press defense and double-teamed backcourt traps. Against weaker teams, this defensive style creates multiple turnover possibilities.
It was also a big part of Hillman's success against Cedarville last year.
"I think we'll try to pressure (Cedarville) like we did against everybody else all year and them last year," Muszynski said. "Sometimes if a team that presses a lot will struggle a bit when you throw a press on them."
Consistency will be the deciding factor in tonight's game. The Tigers were on fire in the first half of last year's regional final game against Cedarville, but let control of the game slide to the Trojans in the second.
This slide gave Cedarville the momentum and energy it needed to comeback and win.
"I thought heading into last year at half time, it was like we won the game. It was just like we arrived," Muszynski said. "This year, we realize you have to play more than one half and if we can put together a good 32 minutes, I really think we can pull off the upset."
Eric Benac can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.