Dollar Bay Blue Bolts hold on in closing seconds to defeat Rapid River Rockets in Class D boys basketball regional semifinal

Rapid River’s Cameron Willemsen, left, brings the ball into the offensive zone with Dollar Bay’s Jacob Iacono blocking during the Class D regional semifinals Monday night at Lakeview Memorial Gymnasium in Negaunee. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

NEGAUNEE — In the first quarter of Monday night’s Class D regional semifinal, it appeared as if Dollar Bay was going to roll over Rapid River.

However, the pesky Rockets wouldn’t go away, gradually coming back on the Blue Bolts as the game progressed and eventually grabbing their first lead of the game with 1:21 left in the fourth quarter thanks to a 3-pointer by Lucas Sundling.

However, DB wasn’t going to be denied as Jaden Janke put in a layup to snatch the lead back and two free throws from Devin Schmitz put the Blue Bolts up by three with 30.3 seconds left.

RR cut its deficit to one on a layup on a basket by Cameron Willemsen, but DB made two more free throws with 18.3 seconds left to earn a hard-earned 63-60 win.

Schmitz led all scorers with 26 points, while Sundling had 21 for the Rockets.

“We were not perfect by any means,” DB head coach Jesse Kentala said with a laugh. “As cliche as it sounds, we made big plays down the stretch and hit our free throws….

“We didn’t necessarily do the little things, the ‘thinking’ things, the mental things at times. We had a chance to blow this out a few times and we didn’t.

“We let them back in by not playing Dollar Bay basketball, not smart basketball. But we did enough little things down the stretch to escape.”

Missed free throws burned the Rockets and definitely came back to haunt them late in the game as RR finished 3 of 10 from the line.

“That’s always been there for us,” RR head coach Rich Poma said. “We had one good game from the free-throw line and that was against Munising, which luckily got us out of the district.

“But that’s kind of been our thing all year. We shoot extremely well in practice, but when it gets to the game, it just does not translate. So that’s definitely something that hurt us down the stretch.”

In the first quarter, the Blue Bolts used an 11-0 run, including a triple from Brendan LeClaire, to take a 16-5 lead. By the end of the period, DB held a 22-12 advantage.

Late in the second, RR started to climb back into the game as three straight buckets, two from Willemsen, sliced the Blue Bolts’ lead to three at 29-26 at the half.

However, every time the Rockets appeared to gain traction in the third quarter, DB had an answer. Up by five midway through the period, the Blue Bolts went on an eight-point surge, including six from Schmitz, to go back up by double digits.

RR rallied again late in the frame, though, and was only down six, 48-42, heading to the fourth quarter.

In the fourth quarter, back-to-back treys from Jarrett LaCasse pulled the Rockets within two of the Blue Bolts before they grabbed the late lead at 58-57 with little more than a minute to go.

When asked what helped his team eventually grab the lead, Poma said the Rockets made defensive changes at halftime to help slow down DB’s pressure and that his players also wouldn’t quit.

“In the second half, we ended up going to a zone to see if we could slow them down a little bit and maybe catch a little break on defense as far as running and chasing people around,” he said. “That’s an extremely fast team. So that zone helped us out a lot down the stretch, but also the guys didn’t want to give up and let that be their last game.”

DB plays Carney-Nadeau at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Negaunee.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.