District champions are crowned: Oscoda ends 18-year district title drought with win over Cards

Members of the Oscoda boys basketball team pose with a Division 3 district championship trophy after defeating Johannesburg-Lewiston 51-43 in a district final at Alcona on Friday. The win gives the undefeated Owls their first district title since the 1999-2000 season. Members of the team include, back: assistant coaches Mike Poland and Kirk Franklin, Devin Thomas, Michael Scott, Gavin Lueck, Owen Franklin, Jacob Post, Chance Kruse, Colin Lueck, assistant Nick Failla and head coach Seth Alda; front: Caleb Nagel, Michael Gepfrey, Gabe Kellstrom, Brayden Mallak and Joshua Bucich.

LINCOLN–The wait is over for the Oscoda boys basketball program.

Owen Franklin scored 23 points, Brayden Mallak added 13 and the Owls defeated Johannesburg-Lewiston 51-43 in a thrilling Division 3 district final on Friday at Alcona High School.

The win is Oscoda’s 23rd straight this season and gives the Owls their first district championship in 18 years.

The victory also moves the Owls to a regional semifinal matchup against Beal City at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday in Houghton Lake.

After a fast start, Oscoda (23-0) got all it could handle from the Cardinals, who pushed the Owls until late in the fourth quarter when Oscoda made some big shots to pull away.

“That’s the way it should be. It’s district finals, we’re not blowing that team out. There’s no way,” Oscoda coach Seth Alda said. “We told the kids it’s going to come down to the end where this is going to be a couple possession game and sure enough it was.”

Oscoda led 35-32 after three quarters and went toe-to-toe with a Joburg squad that found its footing in the second half. With 6:39 left, Joey Chrencik took an inside feed from Tanner Shimel and scored to pull the Cardinals within two, 37-35.

It was a close as the Cardinals got though as the Owls made some critical shots to maintain their lead. Following that basket, Franklin fed Devin Thomas inside for a basket and Gabe Kellstrom hit a running banker to push Oscoda’s lead to six with 5:36 left.

A triple from Sheldon Huff cut the lead to three with 5:08 remaining, but the Owls seized control the rest of the way. Franklin drilled a triple from the wing and then drove the lane for a three-point play, which he converted to push Oscoda to a 47-38 lead as an excited Oscoda crowd rained down “Let’s Go Blue” chants from the stands.

Over the final four minutes of play, Oscoda stretched a three-point lead into a nine-point win, outscoring the Cardinals 10-5.

The victory was a big measure of redemption for the Owls, who fell to Whittemore-Prescott by six in last year’s district final. The Owls talked about winning a district at the beginning of the season and made it a reality on Friday after beating Alcona and Whittemore on the way to the final.

“The kids have put a lot of time into it obviously and they worked really hard to get here,” Alda said. “Last year, we were just a couple possessions away from getting one against a really good Whittemore team. We’ve got to give Joburg a lot of credit. They’re a great team too.”

Joburg made a run at Oscoda in the third quarter, but the Owls managed to hold the edge. Despite several baskets for both sides, the Cardinals couldn’t follow up on at least a handful of drives in transition after near Oscoda misses. Joburg trailed 26-18 at halftime, but cut the lead to three midway through the third quarter on an outside basket from Tyler Madej. In the quarter’s remaining time, the Cardinals got to within three twice more, within four once and to within one after Huff drilled a triple with 33 seconds left.

The Owls held a 35-32 lead at the end of the period however after Kellstrom drove in for a layup with nine seconds left.

Tyson Claeys paced the Cardinals with 15 points and Huff added nine.

Oscoda has been a good outside shooting team all season and showed it again on Friday. After Claeys scored on a putback for the game’s first basket, the Owls drained four consecutive three-pointers–three from Franklin–to take a 12-2 lead. The fast start helped to give Oscoda a 16-8 lead after one quarter, but the Owls couldn’t maintain that pace down the stretch.

The Owls led by as many as eight in the second quarter, but the Cardinals slowly chipped away at the lead and cut it to four on a Claeys’ basket. Claeys later cut the lead to three after scoring on a putback, but Franklin scored inside late and Jacob Post made his only bucket of the game to put the Owls up by seven.

Friday’s win ends a long district title drought for Oscoda, but it also holds significance for Alda too. During the 1999-2000 season, he was called up to Oscoda’s varsity squad as a freshman for the postseason and was part of a team that won a district championship on the way to a run to the Class B quarterfinals. After Friday’s game, Alda called that one of his favorite memories as a player.

Eighteen years later, he’s helped this year’s team make its own mark on the program in the midst of the best season in school history.

“It’s another step. It’s a big deal,” Alda said. “I don’t know how else to say it, but we’re very happy with it.”

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BOX SCORE: Field goals made/Free throws made/Free throws attempted/Total Points

OSCODA (51): O. Franklin 8 3-5 23; G. Kellstrom 3 1-2 8; B. Mallak 6 1-6 13; J. Post 1 0-0 2; G. Lueck 1 1-2 3; D. Thomas 1 0-0 2.

JOBURG (43): T. Claeys 5 4-10 15; S. Huff 3 0-0 9; G. Weaver 1 0-0 2; T. Shimel 2 2-4 7; C. Gascho 1 0-0 2; J. Chrencik 3 0-0 6; T. Madej 1 0-0 2.