News Sports Editor
News Photo by James Andersen
Hillman’s Hunter Fessler puts up a shot against?Pellston defenders in the first round of regional play on Monday. Hillman won 69-32 and will play in?Pellston on Wednesday.
PELLSTON-Three weeks has brought a lot of change to the Hillman boys basketball team.
In that time, Hillman's play strong as a team has resulted the Tigers first district title since 2009 and an impressive winning streak that was at eight games as of Sunday.
That streak hit nine games on Monday after Hillman routed Pellston 69-32 in a Class D regional semifinal game on the Hornets home floor.
Now the Tigers (17-5) will try to make school history and win the school's first regional title against Cedarville on Wednesday in a regional final at 7 p.m. It will be the first time in 10 years that Hillman has played in a regional final.
"I think it's a huge step for the program. Three weeks ago I don't know if we'd be saying this that we're here right now, but we came together as a team, we bonded," Hillman coach Eric Muszynski said. "The sky's the limit. If these guys want to continue to work hard and play the game the game we taught them and be aggressive, who knows what will happen."
Mason VanPamel paced Hillman with 25 points, Ty Jones added 15 and Michael Olschanski and Mike Klein each chipped in with nine.
Going into the game, Hillman wanted to establish its own tempo and the Tigers did just that in the first quarter, leading 24-10 at the end of the period. The Tigers' defensive pressure forced several Pellston turnovers and Hillman took advantage of the Hornets' miscues. Hillman used runs of seven and eight points to pull away from Pellston, which continued to have trouble hanging onto the ball.
"We knew from watching a lot of tape on Pellston that they have hard time with pressure and that's something we wanted to establish tonight," Muszynski said. "That's something that we've done over this nine-game winning streak, we've really found our niche defensively, whether it's in the full-court or half-court."
VanPamel and Jones kept Hillman's offense chugging along in the second quarter as the Tigers kept attacking from all angles. VanPamel hit three first-half treys, but the Tigers also got the ball inside to Olschanski and Klein and used the speed of Fessler and Jones to draw contact and hit shots from close range.
The Tigers also clamped down on Pellston star Jake Friedenstab who scored 11 points. Dale Stark led the Hornets with 12 points.
"I thought tonight there were multiple traps we ran, corners, wings up front and all of them were successful," Muszynski said. "The guys definitely came out and forced their will on Pellston and it made for a fun game."
Hillman started the second half with a 46-17 lead and scored the first eight points of the third quarter, but the Hornets finally found some momentum offensively and scored the last eight points of the quarter as part of a larger 13-0 run that cut into the Tigers' lead, 54-30 with almost seven minutes left in the game.
Once again, Hillman turned up the Heat on both ends of the floor and outscored the Hornets 15-2 the rest of the way. With the game well in hand, several Hillman bench players got some considerable playing time and David Julka used the opportunity to hit Hillman's last two shots.
Though they were regional champions a year ago, the Hornets couldn't get much going on offense and found themselves outrebounded by Hillman most of the game. Other times Pellston just wasn't able to hit shots when it needed to especially from close range. Pellston also struggled from the free-throw line, going 8-for-15, didn't hit a single shot from beyond the arc and got too few contributions on offense.
Hillman last played in the regional semifinals in 2009, losing to Leland 85-67. This time around the Tigers will face possibly their toughest test all season. Cedarville has been ranked nearly all season and Muszynski knows his team will have its hands full.
"Cedarville is a perennial powerhouse They're in the state finals or semifinals just about every year. They're a household name. I think we match up well with them," Muszynski said.
HILLMAN (69): VanPamel 9 4-4 25; Jones 5 4-8 15; M. Olschanski 4 1-1 9; Klein 4 0-0 9; Fessler 2 1-2 5; Clark 1 0-0 2; Zimmer 0 0-2 0; Julka 2 0-0 4.
PELLSTON (32): Stark 5 2-3 12; Friedenstab 4 3-4 11; Wright 1 0-0 2; Keller 1 3-8 5; Hamlin 1 0-0 2.