Spartans pull away from Chippewas

Manistee senior Dustin Simmons (44) shoots while being defended by Mason County Central’s Anders Asiala during the first quarter of Monday’s game. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

SCOTTVILLE — Live by the 3, or die by it.

It was the latter for Manistee.

The Chippewas shot just 4-for-24 (16 percent) from beyond the arc and Mason County Central pulled away for a 74-49 win in a Class B district quarterfinal on Monday night.

“We came into this kind of knowing if we played our regular game and tried to grind it out, yeah, we might be able to keep it close,” said Manistee coach Scott Solberg. “We went for broke tonight. We had three practices where we just decided to outlet and run. We know that’s their game, but if we’re hitting, we thought we could have made it a game. I thought that was our only chance to really beat a team like that.”

MCC (15-6) advances to host Benzie Central in a semifinal Wednesday while Cadillac, which beat Kingsley 55-46 in Monday’s other quarterfinal, will face Ludington in the semifinals.

“Our guys played hard, played smart, played together,” said MCC coach Jeff Tuka, “and we’re just happy to move on to Wednesday night.”

Manistee (5-16) had 11 different players score, but only one in double figures. Senior Dustin Simmons led Manistee with 14 points to go with five rebounds, senior Andrew Solberg had nine points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals while Kody Malstrom and Cody McShane scored four apiece.

Nick Bennett led MCC with 23 points to go with 12 rebounds, Kody Ambrose scored 16 and Johnny Shafer 10.

The two teams had just played on Thursday — a 53-39 win for MCC — but unlike that game, the Spartans got off to a good start on Monday. Bennett scored nine in the first quarter to stake MCC to a 19-7 lead and Manistee made just two field goals.

“This is more the style we wanted rather than the style that was last Thursday night,” Tuka said.

Manistee recovered offensively with 16 points in the second quarter, but MCC had 24 of its own for a commanding 43-23 lead at the half.

“We made a note before the game that we’ve got to have a good start,” Tuka said. “If we give them some breath, they’re going to think that they’re going to be able to stay in it for the whole game.”

Considering how they’ve struggled offensively this season, giving up 43 points in a half didn’t favor the Chippewas at all, especially since they shot 15-for-63 (23 percent) from the floor in the game.

MCC led by as many as 22 early in the third before Manistee responded and really outworked the Spartans the rest of the quarter. Simmons sparked the Chippewas on both ends as they forced eight turnovers in the quarter and mounted a 15-4 run to pull within 11 points with 1:58 to play.

“That’s always been a big motto for our team,” Simmons said. “Obviously we’re not the biggest team, but outworking them is something we’ve always stressed.”

The run got the Chippewa bench fired up and forced a pair of MCC timeouts.

“I thought Manistee did a fantastic job of not mailing it in,” Tuka said. “They could have been very downtrodden at halftime and they played still like they were going to win the game.”

The Chippewas had numerous chances to cut the deficit to single digits late in the third, but couldn’t convert.

“One time it looked like volleyball in there,” Scott Solberg said. “We probably missed five or six shots on that one possession. That’s been the story of the year.”

Whatever momentum the Chippewas had late in the third quarter was gone early in the fourth as the Spartans pushed the ball down the floor and increased the lead the rest of the way.

“We didn’t have much left in that last (quarter),” Scott Solberg. “I looked out there and Andrew looked like an 80-year-old guy running around at the end.”

Manistee, which hasn’t won a postseason game since 2009, was able to empty its bench while the five seniors played their last game.

“I just feel for them,” Scott Solberg said. “That’s not the way they wanted to go out. It hurt in that locker room. These guys are quality, they’re great guys.

“With a record like that, sometimes teams have checked out. It’s a credit to them that they didn’t.”


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