A long time coming

WOLVERINE-For just the second time in school history, the Onaway boys basketball team can call itself a district champion.

The Cardinals knocked off No. 2 Hillman in a thrilling 58-57 victory on Friday at Wolverine High School to win their first district title since 1989.

“It’s awesome. I’ve been able to watch these guys grow for the past four years now and they just wanted it tonight. We knew we were the better team and we believed in ourselves and they remembered how it tasted losing to Hillman last year and they weren’t going to let it happen again and all the hard work and dedication paid off and I couldn’t be any prouder,” Onaway coach Eddy Szymoniak said.

Onaway advances to a Class D regional semifinal on Monday in St. Ignace and will play Rudyard at 7:45 p.m.

Both teams battled back and forth, exchanging baskets in a wild fourth quarter.

The Tigers (22-1) battled back and were able to tie the game at 57-57 with 1:12 left.

Hillman was able to chew some clock and set up Gunnar Libby for two good looks from beyond the three point line, but the junior struggled to get anything to fall most of the night.

On the second missed three, the Tigers gained possession on a jump ball with 17 seconds left and Hillman coach Eric Muszynski called a timeout to draw up a play.

“We set a double screen for Gunnar as a decoy and once we got it in we might have rushed our shot a little bit, but at that point we pushed so far and got so closed we just wanted to attack and get it in,” Muszynski said.

Libby drove the lane and put up a contested layup that rattled out.

Onaway grabbed the rebound and wasted no time getting it up the court and Morgan McLean was fouled with two seconds left.

McLean missed the first attempt, but got the second free throw to fall which sent the Onaway crowd into a frenzy and forced the Tigers to use their final timeout.

Hillman threw an errant pass on the inbound near the Onaway bench where it looked as if a Cardinal player saved the ball from going out of bounds with 1.4 seconds left on the clock.

The officials met at half court and confirmed that the game was over in what was a wild and dramatic ending to a fitting game.

Hillman was on fire early, making its first three shot attempts and jumped out to a lead, but in what was a trend for most of the night, Onaway found answers and battled back the entire game.

The Tigers held a 10-point lead halfway through the second quarter, but Onaway continued to attack the basket and go after Libby, who earned his fourth foul of the game with 4:30 left in the first half.

The Cardinals took advantage of Libby’s absence and cut the lead to one and trailed 31-30 at halftime.

The momentum shifted late in the third quarter as Onaway (19-4) put together a 12-0 run to take its first lead of the game and took a five point lead into the final quarter of play.

Senior Joe Sigsby led the way for Onaway pouring in a game-high 23 points. Cortez Washington added 11 points to help the Cardinals hand Hillman it’s only loss of the season.

Dylan Steinke put in a solid effort in his final basketball game for Hillman, scoring 21 points. Both Seth Knaggs and Billy Kolcan chipped in with 10 points apiece in the losing effort.

“If you could formulate a team, this is exactly what anyone would want. These kids put in the work all season long and if anyone said that we would have been 22-0 going into the district final game tonight they would have been lying and that’s just a testament to how hard this group worked all season. This group has elevated the program going forward and proved that anything can be done,” Muszynski said.

If Onaway wins on Monday, the Cardinals will play either Alanson or Pickford in the regional final on Wednesday.

“We know a little bit about both teams. We’re not going to change anything up, we’ll just continue playing our style of basketball and keep doing what we have all year to get to this point,” Szymoniak said.

Jonny Zawacki can be reached via email at jzawacki@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5690.