North Central rolls in Class D district opener


For The Daily News

PERKINS – Chad Branstrom was running out of time. Playing in his last game on his home court, there was an obvious sense of urgency and the senior did what he could for the Mid Peninsula Wolverines, putting up one of the best efforts of his career.

Still, this was North Central, and the Jets were not intimidated as they rolled to a 69-48 victory Monday night in a District 126 opener.

“We waited out the storm,” said Jets head coach Adam Mercier. “I thought Mid Pen played really well tonight and we responded to the challenge. Evan Winkelbauer and Chad Branstrom capped off a great senior year with two really good games, they came out with a lot of energy on their home floor, and that’s going to happen now.

“We’re not going to get 30-40 point wins anymore. Every team’s going to give us their best effort and I’m glad the way we responded.”

The Wolverines hung around in this one, and came out fired up. Branstrom kicked things off with a layup and the Wolverines celebrated their 2-0 lead.

“They sure did and I was proud as hell of them,” said Wolverines head coach Mark Branstrom of his team’s enthusiasm. “As far as I was concerned, we wanted to play one quarter at a time, and it looked like it was going to come true. There were a lot of little things that contributed, but overall I’m really happy. They played really well.”

The Jets didn’t get on the board until two minutes in, on a driving layup from Trevor Ekberg, but the Wolverines responded with a three-pointer from Alex Winkelbauer.

After the first quarter, North Central’s lead was only 19-15, thanks in part of a furious last possession for the Wolverines, in which they got five attempts at the basket before Branstrom beat the buzzer with his tip-in.

The Jets had their 20 point lead at the half, but Branstrom and the Wolverines made certain it never got beyond that. Mid Pen rotated in a deep bench and gave their freshmen and one eighth grader playing time. Each showed no fear against the No. 1 Jets.

The Jets held a 49-26 lead near the end of the third quarter after a 7-0 run, which included five consecutive points from Travis Vincent. Earlier in the day Vincent was selected MVP of the Central U.P. Conference and the crowd roared their approval, chanting “MVP, MVP” with each basket from Vincent, who scored 10 points.

But the Wolverines (3-18) went on a run of their own in the final minute, Branstrom capping off a 7-0 run with a three-pointer just before the buzzer to close the gap to 49-33. Branstrom finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds.

“Chad has been capable of that forever. He’s been injured all year long. It’s an excuse, but it’s not, it’s a fact, and he’s played like himself,” said coach Branstrom. “It’s been a year where once they got to the point where they were healthy, I knew we had a good chance of playing with anybody. It’s hard to do when you’ve already had that losing feeling for a long time.”

Winkelbauer provided a spark in short bursts but was saddled with foul trouble and illness.

The Jets were led by Rob Granquist who quietly went to work with a 20-point effort. Ekberg scored 18 and Caleb Martin added 10.

“I thought we forced too many outside shots and you’re going to have some off nights shooting, but the big thing is to make sure we still have some spread-out scoring and Robby did a nice job of that in the second half, getting to the rim and getting some buckets,” said Mercier.

North Central (21-0) will host North Dickinson Wednesday night. The Nordics knocked off Hannahville 62-30 in their district opener Monday night.

“Coach Mattson tried to keep us under 55 every time, so I’m sure that’s going to be his goal again this year,” said Mercier. “We have to make sure we’re efficient on the offensive end, hit the open guy and get good looks, and get the ball inside also. We’ll have some size advantage on Wednesday.”

N. Central 19 20 10 20 – 69

Mid Pen 15 6 12 15 – 48

NC: R. Granquist 20, J. Granquist 5, Vincent 10, Whitens 6, Martin 10, Ekberg 18; FT: 14-20; F: 18; 3-point field goals: Ekberg.

MP:?C. Branstrom 22, Winkelbauer 12, T. Branstrom 2, Richmond 5, Pellinen 3, Barron 2, Newcombe 2; FT: 8-14; F: 18; Fouled out: Barron; 3-point field goals; C. Branstrom 2, Winkelbauer 2.