Every championship game has a story line. On Saturday in the Class D Boys Basketball State Championship, experience was the difference. Buckley, a team that starts five juniors, was making their first ever trip to semifinals for the final weekend of the season. On the other side, Powers North Central starts five seniors who have lost just one game in their four years at the varsity level. They entered Saturday winners of eighty-two in a row, including back-to-back Class D championships. Their experience showed early on in this contest, as they walked out of Breslin Center to the tune of a 78-69 victory, their 83rd in a row.
In the first quarter, the Jets were on fire, as they hit their first twelve shots of the contest. On the contrary the Bears showed slight jitters and as a result, Powers North Central raced out to a 38-20 lead after just the first quarter of play. The team shot a remarkable 83.3% from the field, including seven from eight from beyond the arc. Senior Dawson Bilski took this incredible shooting act even farther, as he had a perfect first quarter, going seven for seven, including four made three pointers, totaling eighteen points and tying the MHSAA Finals Record for points scored in a single quarter.
Though the Jets eventually cooled down, and Buckley clawed their way back into this contest, the hot start was too much to overcome. The Bears got close for the first time all day halfway through the third quarter when they cut it to ten, mainly led by an offensive lull for Powers North Central. When Dawson Bilski had to leave the game as a result of foul trouble, Buckley went into a box-and-one to contain Whitens. As a result, Coach Mercier and the Jets pulled the ball out and forced the defense to extend. This led to the lowest scoring quarter of the contest, as each team scored just ten points on a combined twenty-one shots.
In the fourth quarter, Buckley got some hot shooting from Denver Cade (25 points) and Austin Harris (22 points) and cut the lead in this contest down to three with 2:24 left to play on a tip-in by Ridge Beeman. Powers North Central answered back however, as their senior experience once again showed. First it was Dawson Bilski, who attacked the lane and finished amongst the trees for a bucket. Then, it was Class D Player of the Year Jason Whitens, and just like he has often throughout his storied career, the Mr. Basketball finalist scored a pair of tough baskets to expand the lead to nine. This all but ended the hopes of Buckley, as the lead was back out to nine points with about a minute and a half to go.
For this senior class, they finish with the most impressive final line imaginable. They lost one game in four seasons, posting a 108-1 record. This team lost in the state quarterfinals in 2014, and they have not looked back since. They will end their careers on an 83 game winning streak, the longest in the history of MHSAA Basketball, and the longest current active streak in the country. Whitens had proved himself as one of the state’s best players in his six games at Breslin, especially this year. He finished with 23 points in today’s contest, and afterwards Coach Mercier made a statement to the media for the best player in the history of the Upper Peninsula, stating that he should be receiving far more attention from Division I coaches (to which I agree). He pointed out that Jason has never lost in the Lower Peninsula, only lost one game in his entire career, scored over 2000 points, and off the field posts a 3.85 GPA and a 1200 on his SAT. He failed to acknowledge that he also has won a pair of State Football Championships as the leader of the Jets.
Regardless of their future aspirations, the Jets have already accomplished so much in their high school careers. They are one of just eight programs to complete a three-peat in any class since 1960. Their school holds the consecutive wins record, and they have captivated fans all across the state, an incredible feat for an Upper Peninsula school with only 115 students, with their comradery and togetherness on the floor, which is at a level that is unmatched by any team in any class.