A battle against the best

The Onaway boys basketball team has already taken down one of the state’s best teams this season.

Now the Cardinals are hoping to do it again with much higher stakes.

A trip to the Breslin Center will be on the line tonight when the Cardinals clash with the Powers North Central Jets clash in a Class D quarterfinal matchup.

Tip-off is 7 p.m. at Sault Ste. Marie High School.

Onaway (21-4) continues to make history and will be playing in its first quarterfinal game tonight, but has the daunting task of trying to knock off a team that is familiar with postseason runs.

Powers (25-0) comes in riding a 52-game winning streak that dates back to last year’s perfect season that ended with a state championship. The Jets have held the No. 1 ranking in Class D all-season and returned six players from last year’s team, including three starters.

Chief among those is all-state guard Jason Whitens, who’s averaging 23 points per game. Add in 6-6 forward Troy Ekberg and senior center Morgan Cox and the Jets have a team capable of giving the Cardinals fits in the paint.

The Jets have dominated thus far in the posteason, beating opponents by an average of 42 points per game while lighting up the scoreboard, pouring in a total of 83 points per contest.

Onaway knows it will have its hands full, but the senior-laden Cardinals are not backing down and are looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead.

“We know we have a tough game ahead of us, but we’re excited for the challenge. We’re going to bring everything we’ve got and we know we’re just one game away from the Breslin Center and that was our goal at the beginning of the year was to get to this point and now we’re here,” Onaway coach Eddy Szymoniak said.

The Cardinals have experienced a much different path in getting to the quarterfinals. Onaway came from behind to knock off No.2 Hillman in the district finals and had to come from behind yet again during the regional semifinals to defeat Rudyard before beating Pickford for the regional title.

“We are expecting a great battle from an Onaway team that is riding a huge wave right now after getting a couple of really big wins. They are going to come in and play with a ton of emotion, but we’re excited to have this opportunity,” Powers coach Adam Mercier said.

Despite playing in several close games throughout the postseason, the Cardinals look as if they are playing their best basketball at the right time and Szymoniak knows that’s something that will need to continue if Onaway hopes to pull off the upset tonight.

“We know we’re a huge underdog coming in, but we just need to go out and play with confidence. Our boys have confidence and we’re not going to back down. We know Powers is a pretty big team, but they have some weaknesses. They will be tough to stop, but we’re going to run the court and try to wear them down with our speed and our ability to beat them up and down the court,” Szymoniak said.

The Cardinals will rely heavily on the play of their dynamic duo of Joe Sigsby and Cortez Washington to continue to create ways to put points on the board. Along with Sigsby and Washington, Billy Moran, Morgan McLean and Keaton Brewer will need to continue stepping up. Onaway will also receive a boost as they will get senior Brad Brewbaker back after a two game absence.

“We know Onaway likes to pressure and run with high energy so we just have to make sure we take care of the basketball. We have been working hard and we haven’t taken anything for granted. We’re impressed with Onaway, but we’re not going to be intimidated and we’re not overlooking anyone and continue taking it one game at a time,” Mercier said.

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