The stakes are raised

The Onaway Cardinals and Pickford Panthers will meet up for the second time this season, but this matchup will have a regional title hanging in the balance.

The two teams will square off tonight in a Class D regional final at 7 p.m. at St. Ignace High School.

Both teams have taken different paths to reach this point. Pickford has rolled through the first three games of the postseason. After receiving a first round bye in districts, the Panthers won their next two games by double digits to win the district title.

Pickford kept the momentum going and knocked off an Alanson team that was 22-1 entering the regional semifinal game on Monday and once again earned a double digit victory.

“It’s a tough matchup for us. Onaway is long and athletic and that could give us some problems. We need to make some good passes, keep their talented guards from penetrating the lane, keep them off the glass and limit the easy put backs,” Pickford coach Drew Paquan said.

Onaway dominated its first two games of district play, before handing No. 2 its first loss of the season in a one-point thriller to capture its first district crown in 27 years.

After coming from behind and stunning Hillman, the Cardinals put together another comeback in the regional semifinal game, defeating Rudyard 69-58 to advance to their first regional championship game in school history.

“Pickford is a pretty good team, we need to keep the pressure on their guards and continue to run up and down the court and hopefully wear them down,” Onaway coach Eddy Szymoniak said.

The two teams are familiar with one another as they met back on Jan. 29, in a game where the Cardinals beat Pickford on their home floor, 77-67.

“They beat us earlier in the year and we know we are going to need to play well in order to beat them because they have a ton of momentum and just beat the number two team in the state a few days ago,” Paquan said.

Onaway will need to continue getting solid play out of stars Joe Sigsby and Cortez Washington, along with steady play from Morgan McLean, Keaton Brewer and Billy Moran. The Cardinals will be forced to win another important game without senior Brad Brewbaker. Onaway was able to get by Rudyard without Brewbaker and will need others to step up in order to come away victorious tonight.

The Cardinals will also need to slow down Pickford’s Derrick Edington who dropped 34 points in the game between the two schools back in January.

“Someone else needs to step up. We know what Joe and Cortez will do, but it’s going to come down to some of our big guys stepping up and slowing down Edington,” Szymoniak said.

The Panthers will rely heavily on the offensive production of Edington who can do it all. Edington is a presence in the paint standing at 6-7 and can score down low, along with being able to stretch the floor and knock down shots from beyond the three point line. Ian Firac has been a defensive standout during Pickford’s run and will be relied on to try and slow down Onaway’s talented guards in Sigsby and Washington.

“Derrick is a big mismatch for any team, he can score inside and out. It will be important for him to stretch out the zone that Onaway likes to run and his outside shooting will be key. We’re going to need to continue to get good play out of him,” Paquan said.

This will be the first time Pickford has played in the regional final since 1992 and in that same year it was victorious. Twenty four years later, the Panthers will look to repeat history, while Onaway continues to try and make some as it goes for its first regional title.

“It would be huge for us. These seniors have stuck together and really showed that hard work pays off. We’re focused on this game, because we feel we are overlooked, but when the time comes we step up. A regional title would be huge for our team and the community who has been behind us the entire way and our fans who have taken over the gym each night during this run, it’s huge because the kids feed off it. We hope we can keep it going and get to that quarterfinal game on Tuesday,” Szymoniak said.

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