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North Central Jets look to make Michigan boys high school basketball history on Friday

North Central’s Jason Whitens, left, looks for a way to the basket against Forest Park’s Dan Nocerini in the Class D regional finals at Lakeview Memorial Gym in Negaunee on March 16. (Journal file photo)

ESCANABA — Jim VanEnkevort and the Bark River-Harris Broncos are in a strange position.

Coach and players always try to win, but Friday night they visit their neighbors and archrivals in what could be an historic boys basketball game.

North Central equaled Chassell’s 59-year-old record Tuesday night by beating Mid Peninsula for its 65th consecutive victory. A win Friday would give the Jets’ sole possession of a cherished and iconic standard.

“They are going to break it against somebody,” VanEnkevort said, before it was pointed out the new record would be established against his team if the Jets triumph. “I never really thought about it that way.

“Records are made to be broken, blah, blah, blah,” he said. “We are all competitive, we are all playing to win. It is not as big a deal because nobody remembers the team who beat UCLA when they won 88 games in a row (it was Notre Dame, by the way).”

VanEnkevort is trying to come up with a plan to deal with North Central, but said, “I don’t know how you stop them. Maybe put three guys on (Jason) Whitens and two guys on (Dawson) Bilski and let the other guys score. I’m teasing now,” he said.

“If you look at the way they are going, you can maybe do something for a little while, but they get out and run like no other teams do. And I think they are underrated defensively,” he said.

Many North Central offensive outbursts are created by forcing turnovers, playing fast and making it difficult to find passing angles.

He also said it is difficult to find good player matchups.

“Their starting five is a tough matchup,” he said. “They are all solid players and they have been there forever it seems like.”

In his 11th season at his alma mater, North Central coach Adam Mercier has directed the Jets to 74 straight regular-season victories and an overall 90-1 record since 2013-14. Their last regular season loss was Feb. 18, 2013, against Munising and their last setback of any kind was March 18, 2014, to Cedarville.

He said the Jets are treating Friday’s game as just a regular season contest. “It is always a great rivalry game and both teams are playing their best when we meet each other,” Mercier said. “You just try to live in the moment.

“This game is always a big game to both communities, no matter the records,” said Mercier, who teaches elementary school at BR-H. “I don’t think you have to add anything to what the game means or is. It is still just a regular season game, the middle of January. There is a lot of basketball still to be played, although this is an historic game.”

The Jets seemed more aggressive and attacked the basket and their opponents Tuesday in a 76-24 conquest of Mid Peninsula that tied Chassell’s record.

“I think we are getting our legs back. This week we got re-energized and are really focused,” Mercier said. “There are only so many games left in the regular season and we are preparing for the month of March.”