NEGAUNEE - Unfortunately for Forest Park High School Wednesday night, the third time was not the charm.
After losing to North Central twice during the regular season, the Trojans were looking to reverse the trend and knock off the Jets in an MHSAA Class D boys basketball regional final at Negaunee's Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium.
It didn't happen.
North Central’s Travis Vincet (24) takes a jump shot as Forest Park’s Lee Graff tries to block him during the second quarter of an MHSAA Class D regional final at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee on Wednesday. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Though Derek Aberly fired in 22 points - 20 in the first half - and grabbed six rebounds, Forest Park still fell to NC, 59-50.
The Jets (22-3), in winning their first regional title since 1985, will now face Cedarville at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Marquette in quarterfinal play. Cedarville beat Hillman in double overtime Wednesday, 92-85.
"We hung in there, but credit North Central's defense," FP head coach Chris Nocerini said after his team ended the season at 15-9.
"The first half, Aberly was unbelievable. (But) they shut him down the second half."
The senior forward scored 10 points in each of the first two quarters, but the Jets made a defensive switch and held Aberly to just two third quarter points the rest of the way.
"He hit some shots the first half and hurt us the most," NC head coach Adam Mercier said. "It was tough to get any runs going because they'd answer right away.
"They also had their solid second quarter while we struggled really bad."
The Trojans trailed 20-15 after one quarter, but a 17-8 surge in the second stanza gave them a 32-28 advantage at the half despite the Jets' Travis Vincent scoring 10 of his team-high 20 points the first 16 minutes.
"When we play with confidence, we're tough to beat," Nocerini said. "We had nothing to lose in this game. My kids played really loose."
He added his team's 2-3 zone in the second quarter seemed to "confuse" the Jets.
"I knew Adam would spend the halftime adjusting (though)," Nocerini said.
That's precisely what Mercier did.
"We put a different man (sophomore forward Rob Granquist) on Aberly (defensively)," the Jets' coach said, "and the kids responded (after) our poorest defensive performance in a half this season."
NC scored the first seven points of the third quarter - four by Vincent - to take a lead it never surrendered. The Jets wound up outscoring the Trojans 17-7 in the stanza.
"(The Jets) came out with some intensity and hit some shots," Nocerini said. "We knew they'd make a charge at us."
Mercier said his team, which also got 13 points from Trevor Ekberg - the son of former Northern Michigan University cager Kurt Ekberg (1974-76) - shared the ball better the second half.
"We got the ball into good positions to score. We took advantage of what was there," the coach said.
Forest Park got to within two points, 48-46, with 5:52 to play when Austin Snell scored five unanswered points.
But the Jets went on a 9-3 run behind four points by Vincent and a triple by Josh Granquist to put the game away.
"I'm proud of my team," Nocerini said. "We ran the floor, penetrated nicely, took care of the ball and played good defense."
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251.