Put to the test
Tigers edge Mio to win regional championship
GAYLORD–Someday the Hillman boys basketball team will be able to sit back and appreciate its success.
On Wednesday the Tigers were more than happy to simply survive and advance.
Jared Juergens scored 15 points, Billy Kolcan added 12 and the Tigers overcame a spirited effort from Mio, defeating the Thunderbolts 48-44 to win a Class D regional final at Gaylord High School.
The win advances Hillman (24-0) to Tuesday’s quarterfinal in Gaylord and the Tigers will play Buckley at 7 p.m.
After handily defeating the Thunderbolts by double digits twice in the regular season, Hillman was put to the test against Mio (17-7). With the game tied 34-34 after three quarters, Hillman buckled down and outscored Mio 14-10 over the final eight minutes to secure its third regional championship in four seasons.
“We survived. Like they always say it’s tough to beat a team three times (in a season). We’ve beat them 11 times (in a row) now and people know what we do,” Hillman coach Eric Muszynski said. “Your toughest games are in your backyard and that’s what you saw here tonight. We’ve got a good grasp on Mio, Mio’s got a pretty good grasp on us and you had a great Class D regional final.”
Brandon Banks drained a triple from the top of the key to open the fourth quarter and gave Hillman a lead it never relinquished. While Mio kept Hillman on its toes, the Thunderbolts never led in the fourth quarter. A pair of free throws from River Waisanen made it 42-41 with 2:53 left, but baskets from Kolcan and Juergens in the next 30 seconds gave Hillman all the cushion it needed.
Mio’s rally attempt was dealt a blow when senior center Ty Modgling fouled out with 3:09 left. Mio’s big man led the Thunderbolts with 14 points and was a force in the paint all night. But Modgling ran into foul trouble and his exit from the game left Mio with a guard-heavy lineup.
“I always felt like he’s the X-factor in our games. He’s always done really well against us. (Drew) Hess is their best scorer, but Ty throughout the years, we’ve always struggled with him,” Muszynski said. “He’s always made himself available and gotten space and it showed today.”
Hillman led 27-22 at halftime, but Mio quickly whittled Hillman’s lead to two early in the third quarter. After a triple from Andrew Funk pushed Hillman’s lead to five, Mio scored seven unanswered points to take its only lead of the game, 32-30, with 3:22 left. Mio got two baskets from Brendan DeFlorio including the go-ahead shot and a triple from Waisanen.
Kolcan drove the lane to tie the game with 1:55 left and Hillman briefly took the lead back before Brennon Mills tied it at the free throw line.
Kolcan, normally Hillman’s defensive ace, came through for the Tigers on the offensive end on Wednesday. Whenever the Tigers needed a basket at a crucial moment, Kolcan was there to provide it. He tipped in a shot in the waning seconds of the first half to push Hillman’s lead to five and had a key basket in both the third and fourth quarters.
Muszynski said the big-game experience of players like Kolcan and Juergens paid off, especially on a night when the Tigers were tested early.
“Credit to my guys, we got down a few times, got a little flustered, but back-to-back regional championships (is nice) and being in this position before definitely helped us out down the stretch,” Muszynski said.
Hillman opened the game on a 6-0 run, but Modgling’s heroics down low kept Mio in the game. Modgling backed down defenders in the paint and found room to score early as he tallied 10 points in the first half.
“Mio played great today. Their defense was outstanding and put us in some uncomfortable spots,” Muszynski said. “Honestly, they got us into a good half court game and that was something we didn’t want to do early on.”
Turnovers helped Hillman pull away briefly in the first quarter after the Tigers forced turnovers on three late possessions and converted them all to take a 16-8 at the end of the period.
The Thunderbolts kept Hillman’s lead at four for most of the second quarter and got it to three on a pair of late free throws from Hess, before Kolcan’s late tip.
Hillman tied a program record for wins in a season on Wednesday and secured a second consecutive regional title. Despite making it look easy, Muszynski credited his players’ hard work for the program’s success.
“Someday (I’ll) sit back and maybe soak it in. I’m trying to enjoy this as much as I can, especially when you start going undefeated and you’ve got multiple 20-win seasons, it kind of starts to become normal and it’s not,” Muszynski said. “These things are so hard to come across and they’re so special and unique.”
BOX SCORE: Field goals made/Free throws made/Free throws attempted/Total Points
HILLMAN (48): A. Funk 3 2-2 11; J. Juergens 6 2-2 15; B. Kolcan 6 0-0 12; B. Banks 1 2-5 5; N. Taratuta 2 1-2 5; K. Henigan 0 0-4 0.
MIO (44): R. Waisanen 2 4-4 10; T. Modgling 6 2-4 14; B. Mills 1 2-3 5; C. Spies 1 0-0 2; D. Hess 1 4-4 7; B. DeFlorio 3 0-0 6.
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.