Local teams preparing for tough regional matchups

The Posen boys basketball team is living on borrowed time.

That isn’t to say the Vikings’ days in the state playoffs are numbered. They just know the further a team goes in the playoffs, the more the pressure grows. For every game a team wins, it means it has to work that much harder going forward.

“The way I preach it to them is, and they’re probably getting tired of hearing me say it, but we’re living on borrowed time,” Posen coach Chris Keller said. “Anything after that first district game is borrowed time.”

For Posen and two other local teams, that ability to rise to the occasion and play well under pressure has made them district champions. But if they have their say, they don’t plan on stopping there. They’re ready to prove themselves once again as regional play begins Tuesday.

Posen will play Cedarville at 5:15 p.m. in a Division 4 district in St. Ignace, Oscoda will play Beal City at 7:30 p.m. in a Division 3 district in Houghton Lake and Mio will play Fulton at 6 p.m. in a Division 4 district in Kingston.

As the Vikings prepare for their first regional playoff game in six years, they’ll do so against an opponent they’re familiar with and in a region that looks similar to the one they played in six years ago in Gaylord.

Pellston will play Brimley in the other semifinal. In 2012, Cedarville, Posen and Pellston were all grouped together in the same regional with Posen playing the Trojans in the semifinals.

The Vikings (15-7) opened the season against the Trojans (17-5) and were defeated 62-47. The loss set off an uneven start to the season–Posen started 3-3–but it provided plenty of lessons to learn from. Playing against a taller, physical team like Cedarville showed Posen what it had to do to match up against such a team in the future, including being more a physical team.

Keller said his team is better prepared to face the Trojans again and believes it could be a more even matchup with a physical Cedarville squad up against the quicker, more improved and guard-oriented Vikings.

“It was our first game of the year. It was a good game for us to have,” Keller said. “It made us better for the regular season.”

The matchup should be a challenge for a Posen offense with plenty of capable shooters and a pair of solid rebounders in Eyan Hincka and Sam Brunet. Jared Sharpe averaged 27.5 points per game last week and Jeremy Misiak has routinely shown the ability to score in double figures while also being among Posen’s leaders in rebounds and assists.

No one Cedarville player dominated against Posen in that season opener, but the Trojans did have five different players score at least eight points. With a balanced team that includes capable scorers in Tristan and Jarron Musuga, Keller knows his team will have to play well defensively, but said the Vikings are up for the challenge. During a district semifinal win over Hillman last week, Posen withstood several attempts by the Tigers to rally back and eventually came away with a 12-point win.

“They’re good under pressure,” Keller said of his players. “They grasp the concept now (that we can’t stop working). We have to set new goals and not get complacent.”

When it comes to balance, Oscoda (23-0) may have one of the most balanced teams in the area and the Owls are counting on that balance as they prepare to play their first regional playoff game in 19 years. Tuesday’s game will mark Oscoda’s first regional playoff game since 2000.

This group of players has taken the Oscoda program to new heights this season, but Oscoda coach Seth Alda said the Owls’ success is a testament to their competitiveness.

“I can tell they wanted to still keep playing. I’ve known during the regular season they were competitive, but it’s great to see a this group of kids (be successful),” Alda said.

The Owls showed last week they can dominate on both ends of the floor. During a win over Roscommon, Oscoda held the Bucks to two points in the first half and kept them off the board for almost 12 minutes to begin the game with a stifling man-to-man defense.

On offense, the Owls have three players averaging more than 12 points a game–Brayden Mallak, Owen Franklin and Gabe Kellstrom–and each of them took their turn leading the Owls last week. Mallak took over in the second half during a district opening win over Alcona, Franklin got Oscoda off to a fast start with several first quarter three-pointers in the district final and Kellstrom came up big in the first half over Oscoda.

The scoring exploits of that trio combined with timely buckets from the likes of Gavin Lueck and Jacob Post make the Owls a tough team to contain on offense.

“I have to make it difficult to scout against us. We have multiple players who can step up and score,” Alda said. “It’s definitely one of our strong points. You never know who’s going to step up.”

On the flip side, the Owls aren’t looking past Beal City either.

The Aggies (13-8) have already flexed their muscles this season while upsetting a 16-5 McBain squad in the district final.

“They’re obviously a very good team,” Alda said of the Aggies. “Four of their losses were to McBain and Manton, so they’ve played some tough games.”

The winner of Tuesday’s game will play either Manton or Sanford-Merdian in Thursday’s regional final.

A year removed from reaching the regional final, the Thunderbolts (18-4) are looking to do it again. Mio won its third district title in six seasons last Friday, topping Hale in a thriller.

The winner of Tuesday’s game will play either Kingston or Big Rapids Crossroads on Thursday in the regional final.