MARQUETTE - The Marquette Senior High School boys basketball team almost succumbed to postseason pressure Wednesday on its home hardwood against Traverse City Central.
The pressure faced, however, wasn't the kind of weight one encounters when playing in a tight MHSAA Class A district semifinal.
It was the kind of pressure the Redmen knew very well - the pressure of a Trojan press.
Marquette Senior High School senior A.J. Grazulis, left goes up for two underneath the basket against Traverse City Central’s Mitchell Wynkoop during the first half of an MHSAA Class A district semifinal game on Wednesday in Marquette. (Journal photo by Matt Wellens)
"Usually, that's the Central kind of game, the fast-paced gamble, and that's what wins them games," Marquette junior Andrew Nyquist said. "I was surprised to see it so late. I expected it coming out in the first quarter."
While it didn't come until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the Trojans pressured the Redmen into overtime, but not any further, as Marquette pulled out a 54-51 victory to advance to Friday's district championship against Alpena at the MSHS gymnasium.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. after Alpena topped Sault Ste. Marie in the other Class A district semifinal, 56-41. Tickets will go on sale at 6 p.m. and cost $5. No passes will be accepted.
"To be honest with you, I was surprised we didn't see (the pressure) earlier," MSHS head coach Brad Nelson said. "That's the type of defense that Traverse City (Central) normally plays for four quarters. That's what we planned for."
Marquette led for all but a brief stint in overtime after jumping out to a 12-4 first-quarter lead and 26-21 halftime advantage.
The Redmen literally swatted away TC Central's first attempt at a rally with just over three minutes to play in the third quarter, blocking three shots that could have tied the game at 28-28.
Instead, MSHS closed the quarter with an 11-3 run for a comfy 39-29 lead heading into the fourth quarter while the typical TC Central pressure continued to be a no-show Marquette.
"We obviously didn't expect to go into overtime the way we were playing there in the third quarter," Nelson said. "They made some tough shots. We lost their shooter a couple times."
The Trojans finally pulled out their press with just over three minutes to play and cut the 10-point MSHS margin to five, 43-38.
TC Central pulled within a 3-pointer, 43-40, with 2:15 to go in regulation and nearly tied the game with 22.6 seconds left following a Redmen foul by sophomore Connor Brazeau.
Trojans senior Ethan Pilarski could only hit 1-of-2 at the line to cut the MSHS lead to one. But on the other end of the floor, Nyquist drained both his free throws to put Marquette back up by three.
The buckets by Nyquist proved important as Trojans senior Taylor Cook hit a triple with six seconds to play in regulation.
"That 3 (Cook) made to send it into overtime, you have to give the kid credit," Nelson said.
"He was fading away from the basket, a hand was in his face and it went down."
TC Central's only lead of the game came with 3:31 to play in overtime, 47-45. But the advantage didn't even last a minute when Brazeau hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 47-47 with 2:38 to go.
Brazeau then drained a trey with 2:19 to put Marquette back out in front for good, 50-47.
"That was incredible," MSHS senior AJ Grazulis said. "We got the steal, I passed to him, he hits the two free throws.
"Then he hit that 3. As soon as it left his hands, I knew it was in and I just went crazy.
"It felt so good because I knew after that point, we weren't going to let (the Trojans) back it. It's just not going to happen."
Twice, the Trojans pulled to within one in the final 80 seconds. But each time MSHS responded - Grazulis with two free throws with 55.4 seconds left and Nyquist with a jumper with under 40 to go.
Nyquist finished with a game-high 19 points after hitting 11 points with 3:32 remaining in the first half.
Senior Mark Pap posted 12 points, nine of his team's 12 blocks and two of his team's seven steals.
Grazulis had the Redmen's other three blocks, two steals and 10 points.
Pilarski led TC Central with 18 points, Cook had 11 and Tanner Kenney rounded out scorers in double figures with 10.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens