BY MIKE ECKERT
TRAVERSE CITY —
It was another classic in the Traverse City Central vs. TC West rivalry.
The host Trojans led most of the way on Thursday, but a 16-5 run by the Titans in the final 3 minutes gave TC West a 58-48 victory in the first meeting between the crosstown rivals.
"The thing I was most proud about with our kids was that we didn't play exceptionally well at either end of the floor in the first half, but the second half we played really well, we'd get there and we'd execute, but we couldn't make a shot for the longest time," Titans coach Brett Graham said. "We didn't hang our heads, we did what we had to do and we had different kids step up. That's the good thing about this team is that one-through-13 we can have different kids step up and make some shots."
TC West moves to 7-3 with the win, while the Trojans fall to 2-7. The teams will meet again on Feb. 22 at TC West and then again in the first round of the districts in March.
"We told the kids that 2-7 is not where we wanted to be, but the reality is it's where we are," Trojans coach Jeff Turner said. "We have to get back into the gym tomorrow and we're going to go to work. I still think our best basketball is ahead of us. We've made some strides and we're definitely better today than we were 3-4 weeks ago. We've still got things to work on, but we're getting better and I think we're going to be okay."
For the first three quarters, the Trojans held a lead most of the way, but never by more than six points and the Titans only grabbed a one-point lead twice. TC Central also benefitted from a pair of buzzer-beaters, one 3-pointer from Taylor Cook to end the first quarter with an 11-7 lead and the other from Ethan Pilarski at the end of the third for a 39-36 advantage.
The Trojans still led 43-42 with 3 minutes left in the game when momentum shifted to the Titans.
After a Nate Castor 3-pointer gave West a 45-43 edge, Jeremiah Williams broke free off a steal and was intentionally fouled by Nate Schlusler on the lay-up. Williams made both free throws and Donny Cizek burried a 3-pointer on the next possession to suddenly give TC West a 50-43 lead.
"You can't second guess officials because it doesn't do you any good," Turner said. "We talked to our kids that we respect Jeremiah so much and his athleticism, that we don't want to give him any easy shots. I thought Nate fouled him exactly how we wanted, and I talked to the official, but I can't do anything about the call. It is what it is. We didn't react well after that situation, because we didn't defend. That's what happens sometimes where we do something bad and we get on a roll where a couple of bad things happen."
After another steal for the Titans, Cizek made a transition lay-up for a 52-43 lead with just under two minutes left.
"(TC Central) still had some kids make some shots," Graham said. "They hit two buzzer-beaters. If you're not mentally tough, maybe it could have been one of those nights where you look back on it and say they made the buzzer-beaters and we couldn't hit a shot. But we hung in there and found a way to win down the stretch."
Castor had 16 points, while Williams had 13 points. Cizek had eight points and three assists, while Kendrick Meyer had six points and nine rebounds. The Titans also took four charges in the first half.
"We tried to emphasize it and we thought we could take a few coming in," Graham said of the charges. "Our kids did a good job that way."
Pilarski had 13 points and four assists for Central, while junior Mitch Wynkoop had a season-best 12 points.
"He had a great night for us," Turner said of Wynkoop. "He's one of, if not our hardest worker. He battled. I thought he did a really good job, because a couple of times we asked him to come out and play defense on Jeremiah at the point. You look out there and think he shouldn't be out there defending, but he plays so hard he gives you a chance every time."
Cook added nine points for the Trojans while Tanner Kenney had eight. TC Central is at Midland on Saturday and then has home games next week against Cadillac and Alpena.
The Titans won't put too much emphasis on the win.
"It's a league win and we have Ogemaw next week," Graham said. "There's no cakewalk in our conference. We're not good enough (for that). We're good enough to play with anybody and beat anybody, but we're also good enough that anyone can beat us. Our kids know that and hopefully we'll continue to focus and play hard to have a chance down the stretch."
In the JV game, TC West (5-4) won 57-45 as Jeff Turnquist had 14 points and Deion Dial had 13 points. TC Central (4-5) had 12 points from Jackson Schrameyer.
The freshman game also went to the Titans (6-3) with a 52-34 win, thanks to 17 points from Jared Roth and nine from Josh Roman. Alex Everts had 10 points for the Trojans (2-7).