North Central’s balance, defense stuns Cedarville in MHSAA Class D quarterfinal

MARQUETTE – A sign inside the Marquette Senior High School gym Tuesday read “Fear the Jets.”

If the Cedarville Trojans saw it, they apparently didn’t take heed of its validity.

They no doubt do now.

Outscoring Cedarville 32-19 in the first half, the North Central High School basketball Jets continued their magical march in MHSAA state Class D tournament play with a 71-57 quarterfinal win.

“It’s amazing. It hasn’t sunk in yet that we’re going downstate to play in the Breslin (Center in East Lansing for semifinal play),” NC sophomore forward Rob Granquist said after scoring a game-high 20 points.

The Jets (23-3) will next play Wyoming Tri-unity Christian at 6 p.m. on Thursday. The Defenders beat Frankfort 57-33 Tuesday.

“We shared the ball on the offensive end and defensively, took away the middle on dribble penetration,” Jets coach Adam Mercier said. “That’s one of the keys for Cedarville.

“We did a good job of taking away their looks tonight.”

NC’s balance on offense was key, too, as Tyler Polfus, Travis Vincent and Trevor Ekberg complemented Granquist with 14 points apiece.

“I can’t say this enough,” Mercier said. “Our balance offensively and defensively right now is really clicking. Our team defense is good and we’re rebounding the ball.”

The Jets, in qualifying for state semifinal play for the first time since 1985, took a 16-11 lead after one quarter and then outscored the state No. 2-ranked Trojans (23-2) by a 16-8 count in the second.

Ekberg and Polfus scored eight points apiece and Granquist added seven for NC in the half, but the Jets’ defense was a major factor.

Mercier’s crew held Cedarville’s Josh Hester – a state Class D honorable mention pick and the Eastern U.P. Conference Player of the Year – scoreless in the first 16 minutes. He finished with 10 points.

“We were glue on Hester and (Joe) Duncan (defensively,” Granquist said, “so they couldn’t get the ball.”

Added Mercier: “We knew (Hester) was a great player, but playing against some of the good players in our conference helped us defensively with him.”

The Jets also were able to break the Trojans’ vaunted press and their 2-3 zone.

“We worked on the press in practice,” Granquist said. “We were confident in breaking it.”

Mercier called it a “huge issue” early in the contest.

Moving the ball also helped the Jets offensively, especially in the second quarter.

“The kids were patient and executed well on the floor,” Mercier said. “We hit some big shots in the second quarter.”

Cedarville wasn’t able to make a dent on North Central’s lead in the third stanza and trailed 49-35 heading into the final eight minutes.

Forced to ramp up their defensive pressure, the Trojans picked up their seventh foul with two minutes left in the third quarter and 10th infraction with 3:16 remaining in the game. They were tagged with 16 fouls in the second half.

“We didn’t make some baskets in the second quarter, then we started rushing things and that got us out of rhythm,” said Cedarville coach Dave Duncan. “North Central is a good team. They made some shots early and we were fighting from behind all night.”

The Jets took advantage, sinking 16 free throws in the final 10 minutes while in the bonus and double-bonus.

Granquist, who said he’s an 80-percent free throw shooter, canned 9 of 10 in the game while teammate Vincent buried 6 of 7.

“We played with a lot of confidence,” Mercier said.

Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.