Quarterfinal rematch on tap for North Central

By KEITH SHELTON

For The Daily News

MARQUETTE – Cedarville head coach Dave Duncan doesn’t reveal much about his team, not that he needs to. Most everything there is to know about Cedarville’s personnel, North Central coach Adam Mercier probably already knows, and the same goes for Duncan concerning North Central’s athletes. In this age of YouTube videos, MaxPreps statistics and good old fashioned scouting, there can be few secrets between opponents.

And it might as well be that way in this Class D state quarterfinal Tuesday night, as this will be a rematch of 2013’s quarterfinal, which North Central won 71-59.

Both teams are more or less similar to the ones that played at this site last year. North Central returns its entire starting five, while Cedarville (22-2) brings back a top three of Joe Duncan, Dan Stenback and Brad Causley. There will be a lot of talent on this Marquette High School court.

The Jets (25-0) are looking to punch their ticket to the Breslin Center for the second straight year and having the experience, Mercier hopes this will be familiar to his team.

“Having played there last year in the same venue, against the same team, I hope there’s going to be some comfortability,” he said. “There shouldn’t be an awe factor playing in state quarterFinal. That’s over and done with after last year.”

Cedarville has big aspirations as well. As coach Duncan put it, “You’re happy to be one of the last eight teams standing, but to come over here just for a bus ride? I don’t think too many want to do that.”

Duncan and the Trojans will have as good a shot as anyone to give the Jets their first defeat this season. Duncan recently passed Jim Bronczyk of Dollar Bay to climb to fifth on the all-time Upper Peninsula boys basketball career wins list, with a record of 406-164, leading all active coaches.

Neither team has lost to a Class D team this season, as both of the Trojans’ losses came against Class C powers Boyne City and Flint Academy. They also stacked the schedule with a game against Class C Charlevoix. The debate may come into play when looking at the Class D slate of the respective schedules, but those likely go out the window this late in the tournament, and coach Duncan dismissed the notion that his team comes from an arguably weaker conference.

“That’s coffee shop stuff,” he said. “I guess you can say that to the kids in 2007. That’s for them to figure out. I feel challenged every time they throw the ball up with time on the clock. If you don’t bring your A game, you’re not going to win.”

Mercier and the Jets certainly feel challenged as well, after a merciless regional that required two overtime victories to advance.

“After playing in not too many close games, everyone was interested to see how we’d perform in close games,” said Mercier. “The thing we proved to the naysayers, was that the kids can handle the pressure in close games. We had different guys step up. The one quality that carried us, is we have balance, and it came through in the overtime games.”

One key factor going in, is the health of North Central’s players. It was recently discovered that junior guard Rob Granquist played through pneumonia throughout the regional and could miss Tuesday night’s game. Freshman guard Jason Whitens suffered a hip injury in the regional semifinal against Munising, which he aggravated in Wednesday’s regional final. The long layoff between the regional and the quarterfinal has helped in Whitens’ recovery, but he remains questionable for the game.

“We’ll see on Whitens. Both him and Rob Granquist are questionable. If the game was (Monday) night, they would both be highly questionable, but having one more day to recover might allow both to be able to play on Tuesday,” said Mercier. “We’re hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. Rob Granquist had pneumonia. The doctor figured he had it all week. He went to the hospital on Thursday morning and came back with pneumonia. He Has asthma as well, so we have to be somewhat cautious about that. Jason, with his hip getting treatment each day, is improving, but he’s not 100 percent. We’ll wait and see for Tuesday.”

Mercier is confident that with or without two of his key starters, the team the Jets field will still be formidable with players like Josh Granquist, Caleb Martin, Ryan Whitens and Tyler Polfus taking on increased roles.

“If we keep reemphasizing with our players, that even with foul trouble and injuries, we have been able to overcome. We played without Travis Vincent for a couple games, we’ve had foul trouble, but we’ve had the next guy step up and fill those voids. We’re capable of performing at a high level in case both of those players are unable to play.”

Cedarville’s star trio is healthy and the Jets could have their hands full. Point guard Joe Duncan averages 21 points per game and has 1,061 career points. He got into some foul trouble in Cedarville’s 63-57 regional final against Hillman and finished with nine points. But teammates’ Stenback and Causley were there to carry the Trojans. Stenback scored 22 in the game and Causley added 20 points.

“They kind of all have their own niche, but they do it well,” said Mercier. “Duncan is their best overall and he can shoot it from 20-25 feet. Stenback roams the inside and can also hit a 15 foot jumper. We have to keep him off the boards. Causley is a very good athlete, very similar to Dionte Blahnik. He goes after rebounds and attacks the rim. They all do their own thing and do it very well.

“We watched the game film from the Hillman game. Hillman is similar to Carney-Nadeau. They shot a lot of three pointers and pushed the tempo. Cedarville threw a variety of presses throughout the game, and we’ll implement that in our game plan on Tuesday.”

Duncan, who frequently makes the quarterfinal game with his Trojans had a feeling he’d be meeting the Jets for the second consecutive time in this game.

“They’re the best team in the U.P., so I figured they’d probably be back,” he said. “North Central is a really good team. They have a lot of kids they can play, they’re big, they shoot the ball well. I don’t know that there’s a weakness that they have.”

But despite that, Duncan said he’s never looked ahead in anticipation of this matchup.

“The things we do in practice are only to get ready for the next game,” he said. “If you look that far ahead someone is going to get you.”

Carrying an undefeated record, having played to their limits twice in the last week, and coming in with more adversity this week with two banged-up players, the Jets have dealt with their share of pressure, but they’re still far from their goal. 30 years ago, a North Central team was making the first of two straight Final Four appearances, one that would result in a state title.

“If you take our season in general, we’re in their company. When you have 25 wins in our conference, our district, our regional,” said Mercier. “We want to cap it off with a trip to Breslin and improve on our performance there last season. They didn’t feel they played their best there last year, and they want to play to their potential.

“The kids are hungry to get back to Breslin to play better than we did last year.”