The thrill of victory
Hillman tops Pellston to win regional title
ST. IGNACE — Motivation turned into reality for the Hillman boys basketball team on Wednesday.
Gunnar Libby scored 22 points, Brandon Banks added 16 and the Tigers topped Pellston 72-42 in a Class D regional final at St. Ignace High School.
With three-pointers raining down and the defensive pressure cranked up, Hillman cruised its second regional title in three years with ease. The Tigers (24-1) outscored Pellston 20-7 in the second quarter to take a 38-17 lead at halftime and easily kept the lead the rest of the way.
The win advances the Tigers to a quarterfinal matchup with Powers North Central on Tuesday in Sault Ste. Marie.
“We just had to come out and hustle, give it our best shot,” Banks said. “We all had our nerves and everything, but we knew we just had to come out and take care of business and do everything to get to Powers.”
Hillman led 23-10 early in the second quarter, but Pellston did enough to keep things interesting and trailed by nine, 26-17, and looked ready to rally with 3:53 left.
The Tigers quickly squashed any hopes of a rally, outscoring the Hornets 12-0 the rest of the way. Jared Juergens hit a pair of three-pointers and Billy Kolcan converted two steals into baskets as the Tigers seized control of the game after some defensive adjustments.
“That was huge. We actually were having some issues with our press in the back half,” Hillman coach Eric Muszynski said. “We shrunk the floor a little bit, went three quarters, condensed it a little more, shot a little more from a 10-second clock and hoped that they’d maybe panic on the reverse. That’s what happened.”
Hillman continued its dominance on both ends of the floor in the second half. As the Tigers racked up turnovers on defense and pressured Pellston, Hillman’s offense continued to roll. Banks and Libby were especially effective for the Tigers, combining for 16 of Hillman’s 18 third quarter points.
The duo kept things rolling into the fourth quarter, combining for 11 points, including back-to-back-to-back three-pointers which gave Hillman a 69-30 lead with 3:29 left.
Hillman overcame some early struggles from the long line early and finished the game with 12 triples. Kolcan added 10 points for Hillman and Juergens had nine.
Brett Moore paced Pellston with 10 points, Tanner Byard added nine and Josh Rybinski and Will Friend each had six.
Friend scored the game’s opening basket to give Pellston its only lead, but Hillman’s defensive pressure soon got to the Hornets as the Tigers scored on their first three possessions and came out of an early Pellston timeout by drained three treys to take a 15-4 lead with 5:04 left in the period.
All during summer practices, the Tigers used their early playoff exit in 2016 as motivation and a big goal for this season was a rematch with Powers North Central. Now Hillman will get it on Tuesday as it will face the top-ranked Jets in the quarterfinals.
Powers North Central, who dominated Rapid River in a regional final win Wednesday, defeated the Tigers in the 2015 quarterfinals on the way to the state title.
“Two in three years and last year obviously getting upset in the district final like we did by one, it helped for this year. It stung really bad last year, but it was our motivation in the summer and we carried that throughout the summer and carried it into the season,” Muszynski said. “It’s just awesome. We’ve only won two in our school history and we got one in ’15 and one in ’17. It’s a sweet feeling.”
HILLLMAN (72): G. Libby 8 1-2 22; B. Banks 6 2-2 16; B. Kolcan 5 0-0 10; A. Funk 1 0-0 3; K. Henigan 2 3-4 7; C. Wittman 1 0-0 2; J. Juergens 3 0-0 9; N. Taratuta 0 0-2 0; K. Moir 1 0-0 3.
PELLSTON (42): W. Friend 3 0-0 6′ J. Rybinski 3 0-0 6; B. Moore 5 0-0 10; T. Byard 4 0-0 9; B. Cassidy 1 0-0 3; J. Anderson 1 0-0 2; K. Rybinski 1 0-0 3; M. Cleaver 1 0-0 2; B. Ferrell 0 1-2 1.