EAST LANSING — There is an old saying that the heart of a champion should never be underestimated.
But in this case, it was the heart of the challenger that couldn’t be underestimated.
After seeing a six-point lead turn into a one-point deficit during the fourth quarter of the Division 4 Boys Basketball Final on Saturday, Munising seemed to be on the ropes trying to dethrone 2022 champion Wyoming Tri-unity Christian.
But from there, it was Munising which made the championship plays.
The Mustangs scored six straight points, and ultimately did enough to hold on for a 39-37 win over the Defenders.
It was the first Finals title for Munising, and chants of “UP Power! UP Power!” rained on the court from the Munising fans as the team celebrated afterwards.
“A lot of our games have been this way this year,” Munising head coach Terry Kienitz said. “We come out fighting and scrapping the whole game. A lot of times we get a good lead and lose it, but we always keep fighting and the next guy makes a big shot.”
Munising held a 25-19 lead with 3:07 remaining in the third quarter, but Tri-unity Christian went on a surge and took a 30-29 lead with 3:46 left in the game on a layup by senior Roy Fogg.
Then, Munising took over.
First, senior Cully Trzeciak hit a 3-pointer from the wing to give Munising a 32-30 lead with 2:10 remaining.
The play run for that shot was called “Herro,” after Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro, but it was appropriate because it turned Trzeciak into a town hero forever.
“On Thursday (in the Semifinal), I was kind of in a slump and missed a lot,” Trzeciak said of his only 3-point attempt in this game. “But shooters shoot. You’ve got to keep shooting, and it felt good.”
Sophomore Trevor Nolan then stole an errant inbounds pass and went in for an uncontested layup with 2:02 left to make it 34-30 Munising.
Senior Kane Nebel then made a free throw with 1:07 remaining to give the Mustangs a five-point lead. Tri-unity Christian made it 35-32 with 45.1 seconds left on two free throws by Fogg, but Munising took a 37-32 lead with 33.6 seconds to go on two free throws by sophomore Carson Kienitz, and then went up seven on two free throws by Nebel with 18.6 seconds left.
Things did got a little dicey at the end for Munising, as Tri-unity Christian cut its deficit to 39-35 with 13.6 seconds left on three free throws by junior Owen Rosendall and then made it 39-37 with 2.8 seconds left with a basket by Rosendall.
But Munising successfully inbounded the ball, avoided a foul and dribbled out the clock to start its celebration.
Nebel – whose grandfather Chuck Nebel played on the last Munising team to reach the Semifinals in 1954 – had 14 points, six rebounds and six assists to lead the way for Munising (27-1), which overcame a 39-17 rebounding advantage by Tri-unity Christian.
Junior Jordan VanKlompenberg scored 15 points and Fogg added 11 for Tri-unity Christian (22-7), which was making its third-straight appearance in the championship game.
The Defenders shot 31.1-percent from the field and made just 4 of 19 shots from 3-point range.
“I was disappointed in our offense,” Tri-unity head coach Mark Keeler said. “I felt we showed a lot of impatience and a lot of bad shots. But I don’t want to take anything away from Munising. They had a great team and they played great defense.”
PHOTOS (Top) Munising players celebrate the team’s first Finals championship Saturday at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Mustangs’ Kane Nebel (0) gets to the basket for a shot with Wesley Kaman (5) defending. (Below) Munising’s Carson Kienitz (2) tries to get a pass past Tri-unity Christian’s Akais Giplaye (20).