Back to business

By JAMES

ANDERSEN

News Sports Editor

The Onaway boys basketball team has already put together a special season after winning its first district title since 1989 on Friday.

But as the Cardinals prepare for the program’s biggest game in nearly 30 years, they’re getting back to business.

Onaway (19-4) will play Rudyard in a Class D regional semifinal at 7:45 p.m. tonight in St. Ignace and the Cardinals plan on sticking with their style of basketball to keep their season going.

“It’s time to get back to business. We know very little about (Rudyard),” Onaway coach Eddy Szymoniak said. “But we’re going to keep playing like we have been for 23 games.”

The last time Onaway played in a regional game was March 8, 1989 when the Cardinals played Roscommon in Gaylord in a Class C regional semifinal. To get there, they rallied back to beat Boyne City in the district final and came away with their first district championship since at least the 1930s.

With a lineup that included names like Kevin Freel, Daron Shimel and Evan Nixon, the Cardinals came up just short against the Bucks in the regional, losing 70-67 to finish with an 18-5 record.

This year’s Onaway team is out to make history of its own and has shown its mettle time and again opponents, including a tough Ski Valley Conference slate. Onaway’s four losses have come against the conference’s two best teams-Bellaire and Johannesburg-Lewiston.

“They’ve shown they’re a team that doesn’t get rattled; they handle pressure well,” Szymoniak said. “It’s about hard work and dedication and we have phenomenal (conference) competition. I think that’s one thing that gives us an edge. The competition we’ve played has really been a factor.”

That dedication and experience against tough competition paid off in a big way this week for the Cardinals. They breezed past their first two district opponents by a combined 144-28 score, but they kept their focus on the impending matchup with previously undefeated Hillman.

Even when Onaway trailed against the Tigers, the Cardinals kept their composure and chipped away at the lead. They trailed by one at halftime and used a 12-0 run in the third quarter to keep the game close.

“We said, ‘Hey no big deal, we can come back,'” Szymoniak said. “We knew Hillman would make runs and it was just a matter of limiting the damage.”

Rudyard (6-15) is having a surprising postseason of its own. In a year plagued by injuries and some close defeats, the Bulldogs topped Newberry in a 45-39 upset on Friday.

Onaway played Rudyard during the summer at Lake Superior State University and while the Cardinals may not know much about their opponent, Szymoniak is counting on his top players to lead the way regardless of who’s lined up across the floor.

That means he’s expecting big things from his seniors, including Joe Sigsby and Cortez Washington. The duo combined for 34 points in Friday’s win.

As one of only a few teams in school history to earn district gold, the Cardinals already have a special place in the program.

Now they want to keep the celebration going.

“It feels phenomenal, I can’t even describe it. This is what hard work gets you,” Szymoniak said of the district win. “You can preach to the boys and they talked about it, but talking about it and going out and doing it are very different.”

The winner of tonight’s game will face the winner of the Alanson/Pickford regional semifinal in the regional final on Wednesday.

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.