by Richard Lamb—Advance Editor
Onaway stunned previously undefeated Hillman with a 58-57 win Friday in Wolverine to win the district title. The game would come down to the last possession, as each team played its heart out.
“The one thing I know about this team is that there is no quit in them. They came out and got down early, but they battled back. I can’t ask for a better group of kids right here. They are mentally and physically tough,” said an elated coach Eddie Szymoniak after Onaway ended Hillman’s quest for a perfect season.
To set up a bizarre finish, Morgan McLean’s free throws gave the Cardinals a 53-49 lead with 5:51 left in the fourth quarter. Then a baseline drive by Cortez Washington gave Onaway a 57-52 lead with 3:11 left in the game.
The Cards looked to be gaining momentum. But Hillman knotted the score at 57 on a bucket by Dylan Steinke after a Cardinal turnover with 1:04 showing on the clock in the fourth quarter.
Another Cardinal turnover gave Hillman a chance to ice the clock for one last shot. Gaining possession of the ball with 52 seconds left in the game, Hillman fired up two outside shots and got the rebound both times. Then with 17 seconds left, a third attempt off a drive anked off the rim and into the hands of Cardinal guard Joe Sigsby. He drove past the timeline and rocketed a cross-court pass to a wide open McLean under the basket who was fouled hard with 2.4 seconds left on the clock. McLean had a chance to win the game at the line.
After a timeout, McLean missed the first shot, but drained the second for a one-point lead. With just 2.4 seconds on the clock, Hillman still had a chance to save its season. The Tigers quickly inbounded the ball, but Brad Brewbaker stepped in front of a sideline pass, and flung the ball back into play as time expired.
The Cardinal student section raced onto the court to celebrate the district title.
“We knew coming in we were the better team, we just had to play with it. We didn’t have the record they have but we knew we were the better team. Obviously Hillman is a heck of a team, but we knew we were better. We just had to perform,” Szymoniak said.
“These guys dug down real deep. They are the toughest kids I’ve coached. They understand it. We have played a lot of close games like this. With the competition we’ve played, we knew we played the tougher competition. We figured we would be the best team Hillman saw all year so we were going to come out and bring it.”
Sigsby had a big game, scoring 25 points. He had 11 in the second quarter and 12 in the third quarter. Washington scored 13 with nine in the second half. Keaton Brewer scored eight, Derick Wregglesworth scored five, Billy Moran had four and McLean had three.
Onaway hit on 9-of-19 from the line while Hillman connected on 18-of-30 attempts.
Onaway moves on to the St. Ignace regional to face 7-15 Rudyard, a 45-39 winner over Newberry. That is the second game of the night, as Alanson (21-1) plays Pickford (15-7) in the 5:30 p.m. contest.