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Munising Mustangs boys basketball team holds off Rapid River Rockets’ charge

Munising's Austin Killips, top center, shoots while being surrounded by Rapid River defenders, from left, Tony DeMars, Tyler Sundling (partially hidden) and Griffin Flath during their Skyline Central Conference boys basketball game at Rapid River on Wednesday. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Austin Hemmingson)

RAPID RIVER — In a rematch of an MHSAA Division 4 district championship game from a year ago, Munising got the better of Rapid River in a 54-50 boys basketball victory Wednesday night in Rapid River.

The Mustangs, who remain unbeaten at 7-0, had to overcome a career-high 30-point night by Rockets senior point guard Tyler Sundling, but they made the pivotal plays down the stretch in this Skyline Central Conference contest.

“We needed a game like this. The kids marked this game on their calendar. This game has turned into our rivarly game,” Mustangs’ coach Terry Kienitz said. “We’ve been butting heads for four years, so it’s a big game, it’s a big win for them on the road … it’s always tough to win on the road.

“I think it was probably our first signature win of the season. It was something that we needed. The teams we have beat don’t have the greatest records. I’m not taking anything away from them because they all played us tough, but I think this was our first signature win of the year.”

After Munising started the game on a 15-4 run, the Rockets (3-2, 3-2 SC) responded with an 11-4 spurt to pull within 19-15 at the end of the first quarter.

From that point on, the game went back and forth just about all the way to the end.

Munising led 41-40 entering the final frame, then built its lead to 48-43 after a free throw by Austin Killips with 5:24 left. Griffin Flath, making his first career varsity start, drilled a big 3-pointer from the left wing on the next possession to pull the Rockets within 48-46.

After Munising went back up 52-48, Sundling cut the Rockets’ deficit to two with a pair of free throws with 1:34 remaining. The Rockets got the ball back trailing 53-50 with 55 seconds left, but the Mustangs came up with a big defensive stop and Killips hit one of two free throws to make it 54-50 with 21.9 ticks to go.

The Mustangs’ defense then forced Sundling into a miss on a tough, contested 3-point try with just seven seconds left, and they grabbed the rebound to secure the win.

“It was only a four-point game coming down to the end and they hit their free throws down the stretch,” Rockets coach Mitch Hall said. “I think we were in a good position to win, it just didn’t come that way.”

One of the main reasons the Mustangs were able to hold the Rockets down late in the game was a switch to a 2-3 zone defense to try to keep Sundling out of the lane.

“I threatened to go zone most of the game,” Kienitz said. “I’m always scared to pull the trigger on it because teams can start hitting some 3s on you, so I never really felt comfortable doing it.

“Once it worked I was like, ‘All right, let’s stay in it.’ I think it was needed…. We needed to stop Sundling a little bit. I don’t know if it really helped, but it (did when it counted). We tried to keep him out of the middle, and it worked for us.”

In addition to Sundling’s 30 points, he also had five rebounds, four steals and a blocked shot. Big man Tony DeMars chipped in 10 points, while Flath added seven points and seven boards.

“(Sundling’s) probably the best player I’ll play all year,” Kienitz said. “He’s definitely the best player in the Skyline, and he’s probably the best player in Division 4, just because he’s got all the tools. He’s quick, he can drive, he finishes so well, he can shoot well…. He’s got the all-around game, and he’s a good defender.”

Killips led the Mustangs with 20 points, while Jason Cornish had a career-high 12. Josh Huotari also had 12. Munising played without normal starter Sam Brown, who didn’t make the trip.

Munising, which won the JV game in another 66-63 thriller, visits Manistique Monday, while the Rockets visit Manistique Tuesday.