By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half
TRAVERSE CITY – History repeated itself Wednesday night.
Down four midway through the fourth quarter, Manton rallied for an edge-of-your-seat 47-46 win over Boyne City in the MHSAA Class C Regional Final at Houghton Lake.
It was Manton’s first Regional title since 1998, when the Rangers topped Boyne City, also at Houghton Lake.
“It’s interesting how things work out,” said Manton coach Ryan Hiller, who was a star player on that 1998 squad.
The Rangers next will face Negaunee on Tuesday in Petoskey.
Manton is one of two Wexford County teams marching on to the Quarterfinals. Unbeaten Buckley upended Suttons Bay 56-37 for a Class D Regional crown at Traverse City Central.
It was Buckley’s first Regional championship since 2010. The Bears will meet Wyoming Tri-unity Christian on Tuesday in Cadillac.
“Let’s do it,” said Bears coach Blair Moss, who starts five underclassmen. “This is fun. I told the kids, ‘This is something you’ll remember the rest of your lives. Let’s not waste it.’ I’m not worried about next year because you never know what will happen next year. Let’s do it right now.”
While Manton players, coaches and fans were basking in the glow of victory in Houghton Lake, Hiller was relieved to be moving on. The Rangers won despite shooting 26 percent from the field – 23 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. In Monday’s Regional opening win over Maple City Glen Lake, the Rangers were 1-of-11 behind the arc in the first half.
“We just don’t shoot well in that gym,” said Hiller. “We’re a 42 percent 3-point shooting team. We had a stretch of five games this season where we hit over 10 3s (in each game).
“These were the two worst shooting nights we’ve had all year. That was my fear (coming into the Final). If we don’t hit our 3s, it’s a dogfight. And that’s exactly what happened.”
It forced Manton to rely on other parts of its game.
“Free throws and defense won the game for us,” said junior guard Hunter Ruell after the title-clinching victory. “We got some big stops at the end – our coaches had a good gameplan for us – and we hit our free throws. That’s what got us the win.”
The Rangers were 14 of 18 from the charity stripe, 9 of 10 in the fourth quarter. On Monday night, they finished 17 of 19, 9 of 11 over the final eight minutes.
Ruell led the way Wednesday with 13 points, but Jayden Perry, Wyatt Baker and Trever Salani all made key shots down the stretch.
“It’s amazing,” said Ruell. “(A tournament run has) been our dream since day one. Our first goal was to get past McBain (in the District). Since then, we’ve been playing it game by game and it’s been working out.”
“For the players and coaches, who have all worked hard and put the time in, this is rewarding,” added Hiller. “And it’s great for our community. Our community needed something like this. I think our whole town was watching or listening to the game tonight.”
The tournament door swung open for the 20-4 Rangers when they beat unbeaten and top-ranked McBain in the District Final, 54-48. McBain had beaten Manton twice during the regular season, 57-55 and 61-45. The Ramblers also had sent the Rangers to the exits in the last two Districts with down-to-the-wire 46-43 and 49-48 triumphs.
“We’ve been so close,” said Hiller. “We’ve been in so many battles with them.”
This time the Rangers won that battle, and now their journey will take them to Petoskey, where they opened the season with wins over Class A Regional finalist Traverse City West 76-72 and the host Northmen 52-48 in the Petoskey Invitational.
Oh, by the way, the Rangers shot 48 percent beyond the arc in those games.
“Our kids should have confidence playing in that gym,” said Hiller.
There’s actually a Petoskey connection at work for the Rangers this season. Former Northmen standout Trevor Huffman, who led Kent State to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2002 and then played 12 years of professional basketball, is helping out, although now it’s “from afar” since he’s been in the Caribbean a good chunk of the season.
“We have good, hard-working, nice kids,” said Hiller. “He (Huffman) formed a bond with them. He said, ‘Hey, I’d love to help as much as I can.’ He’s been helping all season.”
Huffman started working with the team in practice, but left for the Caribbean around the first of the year, Hiller said. Still, he analyzes film for his friend after each Rangers game.
Hiller loads the film on Hudl, allowing Huffman instant access to it.
“It’s awesome to see the game from his eyes,” said Hiller. “He sees things I don’t. He’s so competitive, and his reports are so detailed. He tells me, ‘You get that game on right after you win and I’ll watch it.’ He’s enjoying the coaching part of it.”
Huffman is also able to leave individual comments on the videos for players to review.
“He promised the kids if they made it to the Breslin he would fly back for the games,” said Hiller. “He’s sticking with it.”
On his Twitter account Wednesday, Huffman congratulated the Rangers on their Regional triumph.
“Proud of their team and what they have put into playing together, on and off the court,” he wrote. “There is nothing better than winning championships with your best friends. Congrats fellas! Enjoy the moment and back to work.”
It’s also back to work for Buckley.
The 24-0 Bears broke Wednesday’s Regional Final open in the third quarter, outscoring Suttons Bay 20-10 to stretch their lead to 15. It was still a 27-22 game when junior Austin Harris nailed a 3-pointer for Buckley. He was fouled after the shot, giving the Bears the ball back. Harris then hit another triple, and Buckley was on its way.
“This team is one of a kind,” said Harris. “We work really hard. We have depth and we have skill. But the biggest thing we have is heart.”
Buckley reached the Regional Finals a year ago, but turnovers in the final couple minutes proved costly in a loss to Bellaire.
“I thought we had them (Bellaire) on their heels,” said Moss, “and then we threw it away the last three or four possessions. We said then we wanted to get back here because we felt we left something on the court. We didn’t take care of the ball, and when you play like that against a good Bellaire team it comes back to haunt you and it haunted us all summer.”
The Bears vowed to improve in crunch time, but so far they rarely have been tested.
Of the 24 wins, 22 are by double digits. Only Glen Lake (63-60) and Manton (77-73) have put the heat on. Manton hit 13 3-pointers in their late February matchup.
Moss’ message to his team after that game?
“Just a hand up is not good enough,” he said. “You have to get a hand in their face.”
Buckley put added emphasis on defense this season, and the results tell the story. The Bears have held the opposition to under 40 points in 13 games.
Perhaps the best individual defensive effort came Wednesday night when sophomore Ridge Beeman shadowed Suttons Bay’s leading scorer Thomas Hursey, limiting the junior to three points.
“Keep a hand in the chest, stay in front of him and don’t let him shoot,” said Beeman. “That’s what Coach told me to do.”
He then proceeded to carry out the orders.
“Unbelievable,” said Moss, who was still conducting interviews about 30 minutes after the game ended. “I’ve got to go in and shake that kid’s hand. To hold Hursey to three points – and that was on a long desperation shot before half – that was huge. Kudos to him. I told him I don’t care if you don’t score any points at all, you make sure you lock that kid (Hursey) down because he has range, he can score from anywhere.”
Denver Cade hit his average, scoring 21 points for the Bears. Harris added 15, Beeman eight and Joey Weber seven.
“It was a good team win,” said Beeman. “It was a low scoring game for us, but we grinded it out.”
And it kept Buckley’s ultimate goal – a trip to Michigan State’s Breslin Center – in play.
“Our first goal was to win the conference championship, and we accomplished that,” said Cade. “Then it was the District championship, and we accomplished that. The Regional? We just accomplished that. Now our goal is to get to the Breslin.”
The run has also helped Moss get through a difficult time. His mother passed away earlier this month.
“I was very close with my mother,” he said. “That’s been on my mind. I’ve got a heavy heart.”
March, in Michigan basketball circles, is known as a memory-maker month, and Moss is determined to get the best efforts out of his players.
“Play hard, give me everything,” he said. “Don’t leave anything on the floor because if you do you’ll regret it forever – forever.”
Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Manton’s Trevor Salani works to get around a defender. (Middle top) Buckley celebrates Wednesday’s Regional Final win. (Middle below) Manton’s Wyatt Baker and Hunter Ruell lock down a Boyne City player working toward the basket. (Below) A Buckley player battles for a rebound against Suttons Bay. (Manton photos by Jeannie Christensen; Buckley photos courtesy of Buckley High School.)
When Cheboygan hosts Ogemaw Heights next week to kick off a new boys basketball season, those attending will see something special.
And really, for Cheboygan and its opponents, it’s nothing new. It’s been going on for five decades.
The special part? Scott Hancock, junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach, is starting his 47th year coaching at the school. Forty-five of those years have been in the same role he has this season.
“It really just means I’m getting old, but I feel very fortunate to be able to do something that I love for this long,” Hancock, himself a Cheboygan product of 1976, reflected on his tenure. “To be honest, I never really thought about how long I would do it. It’s just something I love doing, so I never really put a number on how long I would do it.”
As the campaign starts, though, he has thoughts of coaching high school basketball for six and possibly seven decades before he hangs it up. He has coached his sons — Nick, who owns the Cheboygan career steals record; and Brian, the leader in career made 3-pointers — and now he’s looking forward to the possibility of coaching his two grandchildren, Landon Gahn and Lincoln Hancock.
“Well, all I can say is I have a grandson that is 3 years old, and I would love to hang around coaching until he graduates,” Hancock said of how long he thinks he’ll stay in coaching. “I have loved every year.
“I have coached with a lot of great coaches who are all great friends to this day.”
Included among those coaches are his two sons, who served as assistants for Cheboygan, and Jason Friday, the current varsity coach who also played for Hancock during the early 1990s – a time when Hancock briefly stepped in to fill a varsity coaching vacancy after the sudden departure of the previous head coach.
Friday, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, is not at all surprised his former coach is still in the game. It became a factor in Friday’s decision to take over the boys program three years ago.
“If you're a boy who grew up in Cheboygan, there's a good chance that Scott coached you in something,” Friday said. “He has a grandson who is in eighth grade, and he wants to coach him.
“So yes, I knew he was going to be around for several more years.”
And next week, Friday will be thrilled to have Hancock alongside him on the court as Cheboygan opens up with the Falcons.
“Today, I don't look at Scott as one of my former varsity coaches — he's a friend,” Friday said. “We're friends more than anything, and that makes coaching even more fun for me.
“Most importantly, having someone on the bench that you can trust is invaluable.”
Hancock, who was helping with the boys program when Friday was coaching the Cheboygan girls team, began expecting to coach with his former player some time ago.
“I was very fortunate to have both my sons be assistant coaches for our varsity program,” said Hancock, who also has served decades coaching baseball and keeping stats for the football program. “But as far as being head coach, I always thought Jason would take over at some time.
“It’s awesome to have a former player running our program, but it is no surprise,” he continued. “Jason has always been a student of the game and is very detailed, and what he does, our program is in great hands.”
The mutual trust the coaches share has really benefited the Cheboygan student-athletes.
“I think it is important to have a JV coach who the head coach can trust that he has bought in to all of the beliefs of the head coach’s program,” Hancock noted. “Being loyal to your varsity coach and doing what’s best for your program is the most important aspect of JV coaching.
“And, getting kids to buy in to what it takes to play the game the right way.”
That’s one of the strengths Hancock brings to the basketball program, Friday singled out.
“Coach Hancock does a tremendous job teaching the fundamentals, but also does a great job communicating with the boys, making each one feel valued, even those who don't play as much,” Friday said. “He's at every practice.
“If there's an emergency and I need to step out for a minute and put my AD hat on, he can run practice and we don't miss a beat,” Friday continued. “He has a tremendous knowledge of the game and is a coach anyone would love on their bench.”
Hancock, who assists another former player, Kevin Baller, coaching the baseball team, has no thoughts of getting back into a varsity coaching position.
“I have no plans to coach at the varsity level, and the reason is because I have the best of both worlds by coaching JV,” said Hancock, who sees the 3-point shot as the biggest change in the game during his tenure. “Every coach that I have worked for lets me be involved with the varsity, so really I get to be involved in both.”
Friday recalls wishing as a player that Hancock had stayed at the helm when he took over temporarily. But, he loves having him coach with him today.
“After our junior season, we were told he was going back to JV,” Friday said. “We tried to convince him to stay for one more year, but he wanted to go back.
“There's no way I could be varsity basketball coach and athletic director without having a JV coach like Scotty.”
Off the court successes in life are just as importance as athletic endeavors, Hancock indicated. In fact, those give him the most pride.
“Probably helping kids with off-the-court issues makes me feel better than anything,” he said. “Also hearing from the kids that I’ve coached after they graduate and how much they enjoyed their JV year.”
There aren’t many – if any – parent, player or community member names on a complaint list from Hancock’s first five decades, and there’s not likely to be any more in however many years are ahead.
“When you’ve coached in the same small town for nearly 50 years, you’d expect to have a few people upset with you, but not Scotty,” said Friday. “You can’t find a person who says something bad about him.
“He’s extremely well-respected,” he continued. “You absorb his passion and love of the game just by being around him, and all of Cheboygan should be thankful (for) how much he's done for our community.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Cheboygan assistant boys basketball coach Scott Hancock offers some pointers during a scrimmage last week. (Middle) Hancock, second from left, confers last season with assistant Matt Mylnarchek, head coach Jason Friday and player Dylan Balazovic. (Photos courtesy of Jared Greenleaf/Cheboygan Daily Tribune.)