Class D final: Powers North Central lifts state trophy
East Lansing – Morenci coach Jim Bauer's lifelong dream of playing for a state championship turned into a nightmare Saturday morning with Powers North Central taking the ultimate trophy back home with them to the U.P.
Powers North Central dominated inside to come away with a 67-47 victory over Morenci in the Class D title game at the Breslin Center to hoist the championship trophy with an unbeaten record (26-0).
It was North Central's first state title since 1984 or when the Detroit Tigers last won the World Series. Morenci (24-3) advanced to play on the big stage of the State Finals after winning its first regional since 1954 earlier this month.
North Central used a 21-7 run to end the first quarter to turn a 6-5 deficit into a 26-13 lead, attacking the basket to start the run, then finishing it with consecutive three-pointers from Bobby Kleiman and Jason Whitens.
Senior forward Rob Granquist also played a role, getting a three-point play (basket and free throw), then scoring off a putback.
"Coach (Adam Mercier) and the guys told me to be aggressive so I did," said Granquist who finished with 11 points and five rebounds.
Then, North Central made 9-of-12 shots (75 percent) during the second quarter, the majority coming within five-feet of the basket, to open up a commanding 45-26 halftime lead.
"We have a lot of skilled players who love to play basketball," said North Central coach Adam Mercier who had a starting lineup that included 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Jason Whitens (19 points, seven rebounds), 6-6 junior center Caleb Martin (13 points) and 6-6 junior forward Troy Ekberg. "They know where they are passing the ball before they even have the ball and that makes us dangerous in transition.
"We don't have set positions. We just play and get in space and when they play in space they are pretty dangerous off the dribble. I'm not a big set guy. It's just go out and shoot with confidence and play with confidence."
North Central certainly played with confidence, displaying outstanding ball movement, having the ball in the hands of four players on one transition basket, ending with Kleiman's lay-up off a pass from Ekberg for a 43-26 lead with 2 1-2 minutes left in the half.
To make matters worse, Morenci was settling for three-pointers and missing them (3-of-15) while getting outrebounded by a 22-10 margin. Morenci made just 4-of-28 three-pointers for the game.
Bauer said he was going to keep playing the same way that got Morenci to Breslin, use fullcourt pressure to try and force turnovers. It didn't happen.
"We knew for us to come out on top we were going to have to play awesome and that they were going to have to miss some shots and we were going to have to make some shots," Bauer said. "I felt their ability to pass over the top of us and hit the guy on the opposite side going to the basket hurt us. They got some easy baskets, but I'm not going to do something all year long and then tell my guys today, the biggest game you're ever going to play, that we're not going to do that."
North Central, which pushed the lead to 30 with five minutes left in the game, shot 59.6 percent for the game, held a 40-28 rebounding advantage and limited Morenci to 28.6 percent shooting.
Standout senior point guard Austin Sandusky struggled with his shooting, scoring 11 for Morenci on 4-of-15 shooting. Torin Merillat, a 6-3 senior center, matched Sandusky's point total and had 12 rebounds while sacrificing his body to take numerous charges.
Kleiman joined Whitens, Martin and Granquist in double figures, scoring 13 on 4-of-5 shooting.