Class D semifinals: Morenci topples Waterford Lakes
East Lansing — Morenci coach Jim Bauer and players Alex Thomas and Austin Sandusky came into the postgame news conference with huge smiles, knowing they had escaped with a 53-52 victory over previously unbeaten Waterford Lakes on Thursday in the Class D semifinals at Breslin Center.
A nine-point second-half lead had slipped away, as did a six-point cushion in the final seconds when Lakes' 6-foot-3 senior guard Nick Robak made a 3-pointer from the right corner with 6.8 seconds left, then was fouled on a 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds left after Lakes had forced Morenci into a turnover.
Well, Robak made the first, rattled in the second, but his third free throw bounced harmlessly off the front of the rim. It was Lakes' first semifinal appearance since 1993.
"When he got fouled, I thought, 'Hey great, we got the guy we wanted,'" Lakes coach Paul Robak said of his nephew. "He did a great job, the last one didn't go."
Lakes missed 8-of-14 free throws overall and more than a dozen layups.
"It was a poor time not to execute, but I'm sure they (Morenci) had something to do with it," Robak said. "Layups and free throws matter and when you see shots not go in from two feet, it played on guys mentality a little bit. I mean … we were 6-of-14 from the free-throw line and I don't know how many missed layups, at least nine or 10 and that's 20 points right there."
Lakes (25-1) had a size advantage at every position, held a 33-31 rebounding advantage, 14-7 on offensive, but failed to finish on enough second- and third-chance opportunities.
"I attribute that to our pressure," Bauer said of Lakes' inability to finish with its putbacks. "I've seen that the last couple of years since we've been pressing like this that they have to work so hard to get the ball up the floor that your legs are a little weak and, when you get that rebound and put it up from three feet you might be a little off because your legs are tired. At least that's what I hope happens."
"It's demoralizing," Nick Robak said of failing to capitalize on second-chance opportunities.
Robak finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds, five on the offensive end.
Lakes had 10 offensive rebounds during the second half, including five during a two-minute stretch to start the fourth. Still, Lakes scored just two off the five offensive rebounds to start the final quarter, missing two free throws after getting fouled on one putback.
Lakes 6-4 junior guard Andrew Kline felt confident after Robak's baseline jumper with 7:06 remaining gave Lakes its the first lead since the opening quarter, but that lead lasted less than a minute when Thomas, a 6-2 junior guard, made a jumper.
"I thought that once we got that lead we'd carry it, but they got it back and we couldn't finish," said Kline who had 12 points.
Thomas wouldn't led them finish the job. He scored 19 to lead Morenci (24-2), including nine in the fourth.
"I just knew I had to step up and do something and the shots were just falling," Thomas said. "I have all the confidence in the world at the free-throw line. I just had to step up to the line and knock them down, and I think I had a couple of layups, too."
Morenci was 14-of-19 from the line.
Bauer felt Morenci was close to being a team capable of playing at Breslin last year when it lost to Adrian Lenawee Christian on a last-second shot in the district final. Lenawee Christian made a run to the state championship game, losing to Southfield Christian.
"It's a lifelong dream," Bauer said. "1954 was our last regional championship before this year. He (senior point guard Austin Sandusky) promised me three years ago he'd take me here and doggone it he did."
Sandusky finished with seven points, five assists and five rebounds.
Morenci will play Powers North Central (26-0) Saturday at 10 a.m. for the state title.
North Central dominated Fulton (21-5) 71-46, jumping out to a 21-4 lead after one quarter, increasing the lead to 43-17 at halftime by as many as 33 in the third quarter.
Jason Whitens, a 6-4 sophomore, led North Central with 16 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists and senior Rob Granquist Jr. scored 14.