Grace under pressure

By James Andersen

News Sports Editor

ST. IGNACE – Pressure? The Onaway boys basketball team isn’t feeling any pressure. In fact the Cardinals seem to be thriving on it.

Joe Sigsby scored 21 points and Onaway topped Rudyard 69-58 in a Class D regional semifinal on Monday in St. Ignace. The win moves the Cardinals (20-4) to Wednesday’s regional final against Pickford, which beat Alanson in the other semifinal.

Playing in their first regional game since 1989, the Cardinals got all they could handle from a gritty Rudyard team and the Cardinals trailed by five at halftime. But over the final sixteen minutes, Onaway turned up the pressure on defense , which in turn got its offense flowing on the other end of the floor.

“Basically we just kept playing our ball. Once we started feeling it, once we started to get in that rhythm, those guys are obviously pretty tough,” Onaway coach Eddy Szymoniak said. “Nobody was concerned. I just said at halftime, ‘We need to pick it up right now.'”

Onaway led 47-43 after three quarters and charged ahead early in the fourth quarter. Sigsby scored to open the fourth quarter to give the Cardinals a six-point lead and over the next few minutes, Onaway’s lead grew to nine.

Rudyard was held to just four points in the first four minutes of the final period and no field goals. Many of the 15 points the Bulldogs scored in the quarter came toward the end of the game with Onaway already comfortably ahead. The Bulldogs also ran into foul trouble and trailed by double digits for the final three minutes before fouling Onaway seven times in the final two minutes.

“There’s no doubt there were a lot of nerves going. These guys, sometimes they do a little more thinking (than they should), on what they have to do,” Szymoniak said. “We played a lot smarter basketball for sure. I think we got into more of an offensive set.”

Cortez Washington added 15 points for Onaway, Trevor Wregglesworth had 11 and Morgan McLean finished with nine.

Onaway trailed 31-26 at halftime, but challenged the Bulldogs from the opening whistle in the third quarter. Sigsby made it 36-36 with 3:06 left on a switch hand layup and less than a minute later he gave Onaway its first lead, 38-37, in nearly 10 minutes when he sank two free throws.

The Bulldogs pulled ahead by three with less than a minute left before Onaway finished with a flurry to take the lead for good. A pair of free throws from Carlos Molina pulled Rudyard to within four, 49-45, with 6:21, but that was as close as Rudyard got.

Much like Friday’s district championship game against Hillman, the Cardinals fought tooth-and-nail with the Bulldogs throughout the first half. A pair of triples from Wregglesworth got Onaway out to a 6-1 lead to begin the game, but Rudyard seemed to have an answer for everything Onaway tried.

Molina, who led the Bulldogs with 30 points, matched Sigsby nearly big shot for big shot in the first half. His trey with 26 seconds left gave Rudyard a 13-10 lead to end the first quarter.

Though Sigsby cut the lead to one to open the second quarter, the Bulldogs pulled out to a five-point lead. From there, the two teams traded buckets and played to two ties before the halftime buzzer. Another switch hand layup by Sigsby tied the game 25-25 with 2:40 left, but the Bulldogs got the upper hand again. Molina drove in for a bucket and Jason Osborn scored on a feed inside to send Onaway into the locker room down by five.

At that point, Szymoniak knew his team was down, but far from out. Now the Cardinals have gone farther than any team in program history has and they sit one win away from a regional championship.

“We knew we had come out and played a little bit sloppy. It looked like we were really hesitant offensively. Other than that we came in and we said, It’s no big deal. We were down more to a good Hillman team and these guys just said once we get clicking it’ll be fine; we just have to not panic, which they don’t,” Szymoniak said.

ONAWAY (69): C. Washington 4 7-15; B. Moran 2 0-0 4; J. Sigsby 8 4-6 21; M. McLean 4 0-0 9; D. Wregglesworth 0 4-10 4; K. Brewer 2 1-1 5; T. Wregglesworth 4 1-3 11.

RUDYARD (58): D. Mills 6 2-4 14; J. Fox 3 0-1 6; J. Osborn 1 1-2 3; C. Molina 10 5-7 30; J. Rosebrock 2 0-0 4; C. Coffey 0 1-4 1.