Swinson, Tigers top Cardinals in district semis

TAWAS-Big plays and big shots put the Alcona boys basketball team back in a familiar spot.

Nate Swinson scored 27 points and nine different Alcona players scored as the Tigers defeated Whittemore-Prescott 61-55 in a Class C district semifinal on Wednesday.

The win puts Alcona (12-9) into the district final for the sixth straight season and pits the Tigers against Tawas at 7 p.m. on Friday for the district title.

After splitting two back-and-forth matchups during the regular season, the third game between the two teams was no less exciting. The two sides traded buckets from buzzer to buzzer and seemingly big leads shrunk in a matter of minutes several times.

“It means everything (to win),” Alcona coach Toby Suttle said. “It doesn’t matter how it gets done, it’s just nice to get it done.”

Alcona led 44-41 after three quarters and pushed its lead to six early in the quarter, but the Cardinals refused to go quietly. Whittemore closed the score to 50-48 and then the two sides traded three-pointers, making it 55-53 with five minutes left.

The Tigers were able to shut down Whittemore the rest of the way and although Whittemore trailed by just four in the final minute, Alcona closed the game out at the free throw line. Swinson was 3-of-4 in the final 30 seconds and Alex Stephenson was 1-for-2.

After playing to a 27-27 tie at halftime, both teams traded buckets and played to a 33-33 tie. A triple from Swinson gave Alcona the lead back and set off a 9-2 run, which gave the Tigers a 42-34 lead with 3:15 left.

The Cardinals had an answer in the final two minutes of the period, putting together a 7-0 run to close the lead to one before Jordan Steiner scored to give Alcona a three-point lead.

Azaiyah Bell led the Cardinals with 20 points and did all he could to keep the Cardinals competitive whether it was hitting a key shot from outside, driving the baseline for a score or dishing the ball to an open teammate.

On the other end, Swinson was just as effective. He scored 12 points in the second quarter and seemed to make a big shot when the Tigers needed it.

“He’s done that for us all year. It’s nice to have that kind of senior leadership,” Suttle said. “Tonight was (a situation) where big-time players make big-time shots and he’s done that continually for most of the season.”

Alec Link, who scored 15 points was key for Alcona too as he continually drove inside for buckets. Ten of his points came in the second half.

Alcona trailed 8-6 after one quarter after a slow start which saw the Tigers come up empty on at least half a dozen scoring chances inside. Both teams started to find their footing in the second quarter and matched each other basket for basket in the first few minutes.

Whittemore led 21-14 with 5:20 left in the half, but Swinson was waiting to answer. He drilled a triple and then after a steal he followed up with another basket to make it 21-19 with 4:30 left. After the Cardinals scored, Swinson drilled another trey to cut the lead to one.

The Cardinals raced out to a five-point lead, but again Alcona answered. Hunter Sullivan drilled a three-pointer and free throws from Link and Mitchel Havercroft tied the game headed into halftime.

“What matters at this stage of the game is the score when the clock hits zero and luckily we were on the right side of the scoreboard,” Suttle said.

ALCONA (61): N. Swinson 10 3-4 27; H. Sullivan 2 0-0 5; I. Dubuque 2 0-1 4; J. Hutchinson 1 0-0 2; A. Link 7 1-2 15; M. Havercroft 0 1-2 1; A. Stephenson 1 1-2 3; T. Gordy 1 0-0 2; J. Steiner 1 0-0 2.

WHITTEMORE (55): A. Bell 8 2-3 20; K. Colton 5 1-6 11; S. Edmonds 6 0-0 12; T. Oliver 6 0-1 12; R. Maxwell 0 0-1 0.

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.