Mike O’Brien called it “the biggest win of my life.”
That was five days ago when his Glen Lake Lakers defeated St. Francis to win the Class C basketball district at Boyne City.
Five nights later, it all changed.
“This is even bigger,” he said, moments after Glen Lake’s stunning 64-62 overtime win over Shelby in the Class C regional final at Traverse City West.
That’s what happens this time of the year as teams navigate through March Madness.
The games get bigger, and so do the victories.
None bigger than Wednesday night for the Lakers.
How improbable was this win? Glen Lake was down seven with under 20 seconds to go. Aided by two critical Shelby turnovers, the Lakers staged a comeback that fans were still trying to comprehend afterwards. The rally was capped by Parker Kokowicz and Logan LaCross, two players who were scoreless until the final 10 seconds of regulation. Kokowicz buried a 3-pointer and then LaCross put back an errant shot with a second left to send it to overtime. You sensed then that karma was with the Lakers. It stayed that way to the end as Shelby had a good look on its final shot, an alley-oop, but it rolled off the rim.
Redemption because it was Shelby that knocked Glen Lake out of the football playoffs. For O’Brien and Carter Lee, two stalwarts on that football team, this was particularly sweet. They combined for 50 points, including 39 of the Lakers first 41. But in the end it was all about team. There was Curtis Bunek coming alive in the fourth quarter, finishing with nine. There was Kokowicz and LaCross, scoring the key baskets in that pressure-packed final seconds.
Afterwards, Glen Lake coach Todd Hazelton talked about how this group “feeds off each other, trusts each other.” To emphasize that point, he alluded to O’Brien, who drew the defenders and then passed it out to Kokowicz for the 3-pointer, even though the point guard had yet to score.
“I’m loving my boys,” O’Brien said, an ear-to-ear grin telling his story. “They came through.”
It was Glen Lake’s first regional title since 1996, and it hearkened back to the days when tournament runs were the norm — not the exception. Hazelton was a part of those glory days. His coach, Don Miller, camera in hand, was among those enjoying the moment at West. He was busy afterwards rounding everyone up for photos. The team. The alumni. Family.
Hazelton is trying to bring those days back, and using Miller’s old photos and clippings as incentive. They are taped to the walls inside the Lakers locker room. Hazelton uses it to remind his players that this is what it could be like again.
For a night, for a season, it was again.
“I think the culture is changing (back),” O’Brien said. “We’re not satisfied with winning the conference. We want to be making runs in the tournament again. I’m a senior, This is it for me. But I’m glad I’m a part of it.”
“I can’t wait for the next game,” O’Brien said. “That’s even bigger.”