FELCH - The North Central Jets were deadlocked with North Dickinson through three and a half quarters, and though the Jets led from the start, there was a prevailing feeling that could change at any moment.
It did, but it didn't do in the Jets, who rebounded late for a 57-47 victory in a Class D district opener Monday night.
Through three quarters, the Jets largest lead was five points, minutes into the game. The Nordics, getting a balanced scoring effort and hounding Bryce Bilski all night long, were able to keep pace, even with leading scorer Cory Johnson held to just four first-half points.
Bilski, who needed 19 points coming into the game to break the 1,000 point barrier came out hot, hitting two quick baskets. However, Bilski and center Trevor Ekberg each picked up their second foul with just under three minutes remaining in the first quarter, and sat on the bench. At the time, the game was tied 7-7.
Sophomores Tyler Polfus and Travis Vincent were inserted into the game and didn't skip a beat. Vincent hit two first quarter buckets and Polfus hit two triples.
"That was a key point in the game and Polfus hit two three's with Ekberg and Bilski on the bench. Defensively, they didn't give up too many points, it was a nice even flow," said Jets coach Adam Mercier.
The Jets maintained a four-point lead into the fourth quarter, where the Nordics managed to tie the game at 39-39, before taking the lead.
Johnson and Logan O'Neil led the comeback and North Dickinson took the lead with 5:18 left.
"If the game ended after 28 minutes we'd be alright," mused Nordics coach Chris Mattson. "We had them up by four with five minutes to go. I thought we had them, but their press caused turnovers and forced us to foul."
Bilski and freshman Rob Granquist were the recipients of those fouls. Granquist scored 10 points and was 7 of 8 from the line. Bilski hit a free throw with half a minute remaining for his 1,000th point. His 19 points certainly didn't come easy.
"My heart was pounding during both free throws, they were pressuring the whole time," said Bilski. "It means a lot to me, I knew coming in I needed 19 and my teammates told me at the end I needed one more point."
Mercier was especially proud of how Bilski handled himself throughout the night.
"To score those 19 points with defensive pressure on him all night, I"m so proud for all he's done. On the radio, he didn't want to be recognized for his accomplishment. He wanted the team win," he said.
Ethan Dombrowski returned for North Central after missing six of the last seven regular season games due to an ankle injury.
Cody Whitens hit two triples during the game and finished with 10 points.
Mattson recognized that a great game had just been played between two good teams, wishing North Central well going forward.
"It was a back and forth game, just a great game to be a part of. You can't always win and I wish North Central the best of luck going forward. Hopefully our conference will be well represented," he said.
Johnson scored 14 points and Berg hit 11. Harper scored 11 points with 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks.
"I'm really going to miss my seniors (Johnson, Harper)," said Mattson, calling the duo "great role models."
"Cory and Bryon are four-year players and they played very well for their last game."
North Central will travel to Carney-Nadeau for the district semifinal Wednesday at 7 p.m.
"We're running the gauntlet in this district and we got the first battle out of the way. Carney will be another battle. They're as good as any in the U.P. and we'll have to play better than we did tonight to beat them," said Mercier.
(Keith Shelton is with The Daily Press of Escanaba)
N. Central 14 12 13 18 - 57
N. Dickinson 12 11 12 12 - 47
North Central - Polfus 8, Vincent 4, Bilski 19, R. Granquist 10, J. Granquist 2, Whitens 10, Ekberg 4; FT: 15-20; F: 17; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Polfus 2, Whitens 2.
North Dickinson - Johnson 14, Pekarek 1, O'Neil 6, Berg 11, Schultz 4, Harper 11; FT: 6-16; F: 17; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Berg.