An unexpected test

Hillman ready for Suttons Bay in regional semifinal

News File Photo Hillman's Ethan Holford, left, runs by Posen's Mark Wisniewski on the way to the basket during a Class D district championship game at Rogers City High School.

Moments after being awarded a fifth district championship trophy in six years on Friday, Hillman boys basketball coach Eric Muszynski went from proud and happy to shocked when he heard the news out of Suttons Bay as the Norsemen pulled off a monumental upset, knocking off No. 4 ranked Frankfort, 45-42.

Many fans were expecting a showdown between two of the top five teams in Class D tonight in Traverse City, but Suttons Bay crashed the party in a huge way with its shocking victory over the Panthers.

That’s why it’s called March Madness.

“It was a shocker, but that goes to show you that anything can happen in March,” Muszynski said. “We have everything on everybody and we know nothing is ever given. This does add an interesting twist, but this should keep us sharp and give us a reminder that anything can happen this time of the year.”

Tip-off is set for 7:45 p.m. tonight at Traverse City Central High School. The winner will move on to Wednesday’s regional championship game against Mio or Central Lake.

The Tigers (22-0) were heavy favorites to come out of district play and they didn’t disappoint as they defeated Rogers City in Wednesday’s district semifinal by 19 and brought home some more hardware with a 37 point drubbing of Posen in the district championship game.

On the other side, Suttons Bay (11-12) entered Friday’s contest against a Frankfort team that owned the Norsemen in two regular season meetings. In the first meeting, Suttons Bay lost to Frankfort by 26 points and got blown out in the second meeting just over a month ago by 44 points.

None of that mattered as the Norsemen pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the state with the shocking three point victory over a Frankfort team that was 20-2 coming in. It was also the second consecutive season in which Suttons Bay beat the Panthers in a district final game despite being swept in the regular season meetings.

“Suttons Bay did the same thing last year and have their (Frankfort) number this time of the year,” Muszynski said. “They’re a good squad and really well coached and I look forward to it. Every year we get a chance to get into regional play it’s really amazing.”

The Norsemen relied on a stellar defensive performance in the district final, holding a Frankfort team that averaged nearly 60 points per game to just 42.

Suttons Bay will have another tall task ahead of it trying to slow down the Tigers who are fast, athletic and can score in any way possible.

Hillman has showed in two postseason games that it can get points in the paint from Kory Henigan, Nic Taratuta and Matt Hunt, but the Tigers have the capability to get hot from beyond the three point line with sharpshooters like Brandon Banks, Jared Juergens and Andrew Funk. Hillman’s press led by the versatile Billy Kolcan also allows the Tigers to force turnovers and get quick and easy buckets, which makes life difficult for opposing teams.

Not only will Suttons Bay need another great defensive effort tonight, but it will need to attack the glass the same way it did on Friday. The Norsemen hauled in 40 rebounds in the win against Frankfort, 18 of which were grabbed by Garrett Keith. Thomas Hursey recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds on Friday and the duo will be relied heavily upon for a similar effort tonight. Along with Keith and Hursey, Suttons Bay will look for another strong game out of Garrett Shananaquet who added 13 points and six boards in the championship win.

It’s a familiar spot for both teams as Hillman comes in with an unblemished record and is the favorite, while Suttons Bay is relishing the underdog role and has hopes of pulling of another major upset.

“I keep telling my guys just how precious it is to be in this spot. There are a lot of kids who never get to experience this,” Muszynski said. “I just remind them to cherish the moment. Live in the moment, give yourself a shot each and every game and hopefully good things will happen.”

Jonny Zawacki can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5690.