Junior Varsity & Varsity Basketball 2019-20 Schedule
Logan Finnerty leaves Cardinals legacy as ultimate competitor
JOHANNESBURG — A common trait with almost every Johannesburg-Lewiston student-athlete is determination, which is something Cardinals standout Logan Finnerty consistently displayed throughout his high school career.
Finnerty could often be seen on the football field in the fall, using his speed and strength to burst out of the pack for a long run or touchdown. He began playing football at a young age with a little family inspiration.
“Growing up I watched my brother play football and I started playing flag football in second grade at Gaylord,” Finnerty said. “It became my go-to for everything and I was fast, so I landed at running back.”
In a lot of ways, Finnerty was the prototypical running back. Standing under 6-feet with a muscular frame and quick feet, he was strong enough to run in between the tackles and quick enough to jump outside for a big gain.
Finnerty rushed for a team-leading 1,379 yards on just 132 carries this season, good for a healthy 10.45 yards per carry average. He also finished the season with a team-leading 24 touchdowns.
Often when listening to NFL running backs speak, or listening to pundits speak about them, the phrase “wears out defenses as the game goes on” comes along. That usually means a running back gets stronger in the third and fourth quarters, while defenses gets tired and less aggressive.
For the Cardinals, Sheldon Huff excelled in the role of inside bruiser, leading the team in carries, while Finnerty used his explosion to create a big play.
“Having a guy like Sheldon (running down defenses), I knew he would take a bulk of the carries, which allowed me to run around the corner and make a play,” Finnerty said. “The defense wasn’t ready for either of us. They didn’t know if he would hit up the hole or I would come around the edge. We knew in any given game that one of us could get a bulk of the carries or both of us could.”
That selfless attitude helped the Cardinals reach the playoffs after another sterling regular season.
“Trust was a key in football,” Finnerty said. “Everyone has their own specific job and everyone has to make sure they execute their job. If someone doesn’t do their job then the whole team suffers. Everyone has to put in the work.”
That trust played a key role in the Cardinals’ impressive 2019 season, which ended at home on a snowy, well-blow-freezing night against Beal City.
J-L entered the game winless against Beal City. Both teams knew that, and the Cardinals were aware of the chatter leaking from the Beal City camp around that time.
“The Beal City game had a lot of hype around it,” Finnerty said. “We haven’t beat them, and this felt like our year to prove that we could. Before the game, we overheard that they said our runnings backs were slow, they said that about us, and that really fueled me. I just wanted to set the tone. We lost but there was so much hype, and it was a great game (regardless).”
Finnerty also plays basketball, track and field and was hoping to play baseball this spring, but his main love is football.
“I would love to play football in college, but I don’t know what I want to do, yet,” Finnerty said. “I’m still undecided on what I want to do collegiately. I want to make sure I know what I want to do for the rest of my life before picking a school. It’s more about figuring what I want to do academically.”
After skipping basketball his junior year, Finnerty returned to the court in 2019-20 as a senior. The role he anticipated coming into the season was greatly altered when two of the Cardinals’ starting guards suffered long-term knee injuries.
“I banked on being a bench player because Carlos (Gascho) and Sheldon are so good, so I didn’t know I was going to be an asset to the team as much as I was, but I was ready,” Finnerty said. “I knew I could shoot a bit, and I was still playing basketball even though I didn’t play (on the team) my junior year. I didn’t have my mind set on being a starter, but I was ready for it when it happened.”
Proving his athleticism and determination, Finnerty ultimately led the Cardinals in scoring at 10.7 points per game this season. He started at shooting guard throughout conference play, hitting clutch shots and often guarding the opposing team’s best player.
The Cardinals’ boys basketball season ended just before COVID-19 swept through Michigan, forcing schools to close for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Although losing to Oscoda was disappointing for J-L players and fans, it did give them a sense of finality few received due to the cancellations.
“Ending the basketball season without having to end it prematurely helped a little, but for the kids who don’t play any sports other than spring sports it was tough,” Finnerty said. “I wanted to run my track season after a solid junior year, and I was going to play my first season of baseball this year. Not knowing what would have happened this spring is what gets you.”
No matter what sport Finnerty was playing, he always knew he could count on the community’s support.
“It’s amazing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Finnerty said of the support he received from the J-L community. “People don’t always think much of small communities, but when I think of J-L I think of family. We all know everyone and we all support everyone in everything we do."
Second-half surge sends Oscoda past J-L
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News
JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston boys basketball team lost 65-39 Wednesday night to Oscoda in district semifinal action.
Despite the lopsided score line, the Cardinals led 20-16 midway through the second quarter. J-L started the game with a ferocious intensity that knocked the No. 8 Owls off guard.
After falling behind 12-5 early, the Cardinals went on a 12-0 run to end the first quarter with a 17-12 lead.
Sophomore guard Preston Marlatt buried two 3-pointers during the run, scoring six of his team-high 11 points in the first quarter.
J-L still led 20-16 midway through the second quarter, but Oscoda called a timeout with just over four minutes left in the half and Owls head coach Mike Poland ripped into his players.
The Cardinals had been bludgeoning the Owls on the boards, constantly getting second and third chances to score. It appeared Oscoda’s coach had seen enough.
That timeout changed the game for Oscoda, as the Owls ripped off a 35-5 run that extended through the third quarter.
J-L trailed 28-22 at halftime, and trailed 51-25 after the third quarter.
“I was very happy (with the intensity early), but we didn’t come out with the same intensity in the second half,” Cardinals head coach Troy huff said. “I don’t know if it was fatigue, or what it was, but we just couldn’t get back into our rhythm.”
March Madness hadn’t produced many upsets in the Michigan boys high school tournament early in the first week, although J-L was trying to change that, but perhaps the biggest upset will be the tournament itself.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association made the following announcement on Wednesday:
“The Michigan High School Athletic Association is planning to conduct all remaining winter postseason tournaments as scheduled. However, based on the recommendations from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this afternoon, the MHSAA is finalizing plans that will either prohibit or allow limited spectators through this Saturday’s events.
“This weekend’s Boys Swimming & Diving Finals will be held as scheduled at Oakland University and the Holland Aquatic Center, but will be conducted with no on-site spectators. All events at both Swim Final locations will be streamed live at MHSAA.tv.
“Specific plans and policies for spectators at this weekend’s Ice Hockey Semifinals & Finals, Girls Gymnastic Finals, Girls Regional Basketball and Boys District Basketball games will be provided by 10 a.m. Thursday, March 12. Spectator plans for the final two weeks of the Girls and Boys Basketball Tournaments will be provided by Monday, March 16.”
The MHSAA were expected to make another announcement regarding the girls and boys basketball tournaments on Thursday, March 12.
The NBA announced Wednesday night that their season has been suspended until further notice due to a player testing positive for COVID-19.
Although the Cardinals were unable to pull off the upset, they showed fight and heart throughout the season.
“I talked to our seniors that through my eight years of coaching, I’ve never had a group deal with the level of adversity that we faced this season,” Huff said, alluding to all the injuries and illnesses his team persevered through this season. “To change the style, coaching to different strengths, but it’s a journey. Life is like that, and we had to find a way to overcome that.”
Sheldon Huff, Jason Richter and Matthew Davidson all scored seven points for the Cardinals. J-L played without starting power forward Joey Chrencik due to illness.
Owen Franklin led Oscoda with 18 points. Brayden Mallak added 16 pints, and Gabe Kellstron scored 15 points.
Snowbirds earn first Ski Valley Conference title in 18 years
JOHANNESBURG — The Gaylord St. Mary boys high school basketball team earned its first Ski Valley Conference title in 18 years Tuesday night, with a thrilling 48-41 victory over Johannesburg-Lewiston.
“Winning a conference is such a challenge. To go night in and night out and end up with the best record in the league is tough and these guys rose to the challenge,” Snowbirds head coach Dale Jacob said. “Our defense was really good tonight, and I really believed that if we were strong defensively we would have a chance of winning.
“I’m blessed to have this many athletes at our school. They are used to winning. The baseball program has been amazing and the football program had another great year. To win a conference, which hadn’t been done in 18 years, which was before most of these kids were born, so it’s a legacy trophy to go in the case never to be taken out and I’m proud of those kids.”
After toppling Pellston for a second time early last week, the Snowbirds knew they had the title in the bag with a win against J-L.
But the Cardinals weren’t in a hurry to allow their bitter rivals the opportunity to celebrate on their court. So much so, that star junior guard Sheldon Huff returned from an MCL injury with his knee secured in a very scientific-looking brace.
St. Mary started the game as the aggressors. Brady Hunter scored 31 points against Pellston, mostly by using his speed and athleticism to get to the basket, and it was clear he had a similar strategy in mind Tuesday night.
Hunter put an exclamation point on the first quarter by completing an acrobatic and-one just before the first quarter ended, giving the Snowbirds an early 14-7 lead.
But the Cardinals had a couple runs in them, and the first one came early in the second quarter. Led by Huff and sophomore Preston Marlatt, the Cardinals inched their way back to within two points. St. Mary struggled offensively early in the second quarter, clinging to a 17-15 lead.
With the game uncomfortably close for Snowbirds fans, and swinging in favor of the host Cardinals, it was up to Hunter to reignite his team.
Just like the first quarter, Hunter had some buzzer-beating magic just before halftime, racing up the court and draining a 3-pointer as time expired before the break. St. Mary led 26-17.
“Unfortunately, in the first half we gave them too many second-chance opportunities, which I thought was very pivotal in the game,” J-L head coach Troy Huff said. “You can’t give a good team second and third shots around the basket. They are going to punish you, and they ultimately did.”
Back up by nine points, the Snowbirds methodically pressed on through the third quarter. They led J-L 30-19 midway through the third. However, the Cardinals weren’t done, yet.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by the Cardinals spurred a run that cut St. Mary’s lead down to four points early in the fourth quarter. Neither team had reached 40 points in the game, as both defenses clamped down with the conference on the line.
“We fell behind by 10 and I told them we have to work it back one basket at a time. The boys fought hard and got back in it,” Huff said.
The Snowbirds proved too tough in the end, as freshman Brody Jeffers scored all five of his points down the stretch in the fourth quarter to help St. Mary clinch the division.
Hunter led the Snowbirds with 21 points. It’s become abundantly clear that Hunter has shifted from main facilitator to ready and willing to go out and put this team on his back offensively. He was again aggressive going to the basket, which led to 15 points in the first half.
Alex Pudvan scored 14 points for the Snowbirds, and Steven Koscielniak poured in four points while continuing his role as lock-down defender.
“I thought we really played well,” Jacob said. “Brady is really playing good right now. It’s nice when he is that good and then the other kids are stepping up. We have a lot of weapons.
“We got our first goal, but we have more goals to finish. It’s not going to be easy. This one wasn’t easy, but I’m confident with this crew and I feel good about our (ability).”
For Cardinals fans, it had to be nice seeing Huff back on the court. J-L has been mired by injuries both in boys and girls basketball. Carlos Gascho and Sydney Townsend both suffered season-ending injuries, while Huff missed a month of action, and Morgan McVannel just recently picked up an injury.
With all the injuries inflicted upon the Cardinals, others have had the opportunity to step up. Huff and Marlatt scored 12 points apiece to lead J-L on Tuesday, and the two could be quite the duo next season.
“(Preston) has come leaps and bounds from when Carlos and Sheldon both were injured,” Huff said. “He had to step up and he has stepped up. I still want more out of him. I think he should shoot a little more, be a little more selfish because he has a nice shot, but he’s a smart player.”
The Snowbirds (16-3, 14-2) have a few days to celebrate and recoup for Monday’s district opener against Boyne Falls. St. Mary plays host to that district.
J-L has one more non-conference game before the start of districts. The Cardinals have a bye in the first round, but face a potential tough test against ranked Oscoda in the district semifinal, which is hosted by the Cardinals.
Johannesburg-Lewiston Boys Preview
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News
JOHANNESBURG — Somewhat hidden on the tree-lined stretch of Michigan’s M-32 highway in between Gaylord and the hour drive to Alpena, Johannesburg-Lewiston high school flies under the radar.
As one of just three Division 3 teams in a Ski Valley Conference mostly comprised of Division 4 teams, the Cardinals don’t always get the respect they deserve. Injuries and illness plagued the Cardinals throughout the winter, hindering their progression on the basketball court.
Head coach Troy Huff lost his two starting junior guards Sheldon Huff and Carlos Gascho to knee injuries at various spots in the season, and forward Gavin Weaver missed time with the widespread flu that knocked out half of Northern Michigan.
J-L is a no-nonsense school that won’t provide many excuses. The Cardinals may have lost some players, but they expect others to step up, which they did. Sophomore guard Preston Marlatt matured with each passing game, and forwards Matthew Davidson and Joey Chrencik provided an offensive lift in the face of adversity.
Even though the Ski Valley has six D4 teams, two of them (Pellston and Gaylord St. Mary) were ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press polls, so the competition was still fierce for the Cardinals.
Heading into the districts, still undermanned, the Cardinals at least get the comfort of playing in front of their home fans. It’s been an up-and-down season in the win-loss column for J-L. The Cardinals started the season with four straight losses, but bounced back with five straight wins to get to 5-4. But momentum shifted again and J-L lost four straight before a win against Central Lake ended the skid.
Although they host the district, the Cardinals will not be favored with AP top-10 Oscoda looking to reclaim the district crown. Roscommon, also in the district, beat J-L at full strength on the road to start the season.
But the Cardinals have a number of gritty multi-sport stars who might just be ready to pull off a shocking upset or two.
Here are three players to watch in J-L’s district, which begins March 9:
Preston Marlatt, 6-0 So., J-L
Marlatt was pressed into a starter’s role after knee injuries knocked Gascho and Huff out of action. A silky shooter, Marlatt plays with a quiet poise beyond his years. He’s a heady passer and a solid rebounder from the perimeter.
Brayden Mallak, 6-0 Sr., Oscoda
The undefeated Owls have cruised through the North Star League this season, and Mallak leads a senior-laded squad filled with 3-point shooters. Mallak helped the Owls score 70-plus points in 10 of their first 16 games.
Seth Keipert, 6-7 Sr., Roscommon
This district lacks size in the paint, so Kiepert could give Roscommon an advantage if opposing teams have trouble matching up with his low-post scoring and physicality.
Cardinals toppled by Inland Lakes
INLAND LAKES — The Johannesburg-Lewiston boys basketball team just has not been able to catch a break this season.
Plagued by injuries and illness, the Cardinals lost 53-43 to Inland Lakes Wednesday night on the road.
With Sheldon Huff and Carlos Gascho injured, J-L had to also play forward Matthew Davidson limited minutes because he was under the weather.
The Cardinals fell behind 20-6 after the first quarter, and never caught back up as Inland Lakes used its hot start to cruise to victory.
Preston Marlatt led the Cardinals with 15 points. Logan Finnerty and Jason Richter added 10 points apiece.
Cardinals earn Snowcoming victory
JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals boys basketball team continued their mercurial ways Friday with a 50-29 victory over Bellaire to help celebrate Snowcoming.
Johannesburg-Lewiston (8-8) has endured injuries and sickness like few teams in the state this season. The Cardinals started the season with four losses, but bounced back with five straight wins. But then another injury led to a second four-game losing skid. Instead of giving up, the Cardinals have rebounded with a fresh three-game winning streak.
“I definitely feel they’ve regrouped after the injuries,” Cardinals head coach Troy Huff said. “The stands were packed, it was a great time, and it was nice to come out with a win, everyone wants that.”
Matthew Davidson, who has been drawing rave reviews from Huff all season, led J-L with 14 points and eight rebounds.
“(Davidson) played really, really strong,” Huff said. “They didn’t have an answer for him.”
Preston Marlatt, pressed into the starting point guard role with all the back-court injuries, scored 11 points and hauled in 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double.
Logan Finnerty added 10 points, and Joey Chrencik battled in the paint despite constant double teams.
J-L will look to further extend its winning streak Wednesday against Inland Lakes.
FOREST AREA — The mercurial Cardinals boys basketball team earned their second straight win Wednesday, holding on to defeat Forest area 66-60 on the road.
Johannesburg-Lewiston (7-8) lead by double figures late, but Forest Area caught fire from beyond the arc to surge back into contention.
Senior forward Joey Chrencik led the Cardinals with 20 points, while hauling in seven rebounds. Preston Marlatt flirted with a triple-double, scoring 11 points with 10 assists and seven rebounds.
Matthew Davidson continued to impact the game on both ends of the court for J-L, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds. Jason Richter added nine points and four rebounds.
“(This win) gives us some confidence,” J-L head coach Troy Huff said. “We are a two-point shooting team, and our defense has stepped up. When we move our feet well on defense, we can start to play our brand of basketball.”
The Cardinals next host Bellaire on Friday for their Snowcoming celebration.
Cardinals rout Central Lake
JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals’ boys basketball found their offense Friday night, earning a convincing 64-30 win over Ski Valley Conference foe Central Lake.
A mixture of injuries and illness have left Johannesburg-Lewiston without three starters recently, which has led to some low-scoring games.
Putting the ball through the hoop was not an issue Friday, however, as the Cardinals had four players score at least nine points.
Joey Chrencik and Logan Finnerty led J-L with 11 points apiece. Jason Richter added 10 points, while Matthew Davidson scored nine points. Point guard Preston Marlatt added eight points and 12 rebounds.
The Cardinals head to Forest Area on Wednesday to face a streaky-shooting team.
Undermanned Cardinals fall short against No. 9 Pellston
PELLSTON — Beating the No. 9-ranked team in the state was never going to be easy for the Cardinals, but losing yet another starter for Wednesday night’s game certainly didn’t help.
Already down starting guards Sheldon Huff and Carlos Gascho due to knee injuries, the Johannesburg-Lewiston boys basketball team made the trip to Pellston without starting forward Gavin Weaver, who was out with the flu that has been sweeping Northern Michigan.
The Cardinals battled, making the Ski Valley Conference showdown a gritty, defensive game. But Pellston ultimately found some offense in the second half to earn a 44-31 victory.
“We were down three guys tonight, and we still hung in there against a top-10 team,” Cardinals head coach Troy Huff said of Pellston, who returned to No. 9 in the Associated Press’ rankings for Division 4. “It’s unfortunate to have them out, but it’s the life of basketball, but it does seem like we are affected a little more than others right now.
“I reiterate a thousand times to them that they are all good basketball players, and any of them can step up any night.”
Although the Hornets have an all-state candidate in Blake Cassidy, who has consistently scored over 30 points in games this season, the game was just 2-2 midway through the first quarter.
J-L grabbed an 8-7 lead after the first quarter, holding Cassidy without a point as he went 0 for 4 from beyond the arc in the first.
Pellston fought its way back into the lead midway through the second quarter, 16-14. Cassidy was still absent from the scorer’s sheet, but Colin Robbins and Sage LaLonde steed up by knocking down some crucial shots.
The Cardinals put football star Logan Finnerty on Cassidy, and his physicality seemed to throw off Pellston’s 6-foot-5 shooter.
But even a cold shooter is dangerous if he keeps on firing, and Cassidy eventually started to heat up. He hit a floater towards the end of the first half, and then followed it up with a deep 3-pointer right before the halftime buzzer. The Hornets took a 21-16 lead into the break.
“We’ve seen every defense this season, and we need guys like Colin, Sage and Joey (Rizzardi) to step up,” Pellston head coach Larry Cassidy said. “Joey didn’t shoot the ball well underneath tonight. He did Monday night, but I told the kids sometimes you don’t shoot the ball well, but you keep doing what you were doing, keep shooting it.
“Sage, I told him when you catch the ball and start thinking about it that’s a death curse to shooters. It’s the same with Blake. He’s got the green light to shoot it whenever he wants, but they also need to get it to the rim, get some trips to the free throw line.
“It’s no secret they’re not going to let Blake shoot the ball with open looks, so the other guys need to hit some shots, and they can. Sage has been getting major minutes and he did a great job tonight.”
The game remained methodical in the third quarter. Both teams had long possessions with little room to operate. Pellston led 27-20 with just three minutes left in the third quarter.
Both teams have been putting up big scoring totals this season, so the low-scoring affair was out of both of their comfort zones. Still, with three starters out of the lineup, this was J-L’s best way to limit Pellston possessions.
Although the Cardinals had not yet reached 30 points midway through the fourth quarter, they still trailed Pellston by just five points. J-L continued to cram defenders into the paint, while focusing on Cassidy, forcing other players to make outside shots.
On the other end of the court, J-L tried to pound the ball in the paint, hoping to force fouls and get free-throw attempts, but the calls weren’t going their way.
Despite a cold night, by his standards, Cassidy drained free throws and some mid-range jumpers down the stretch to finish with a game-high 20 points and help the Hornets sneak away with a victory.
“A win is a win, we celebrate every win no matter the score, but it wasn’t pretty,” Cassidy said. “It won’t be one of those games people look back on and remember how much they enjoyed it, but give a ton of credit to coach Huff. He’s one of the best coaches we have in the Ski Valley and he came prepared.
“I told my kids that they were down (a couple players). We knew Sheldon was out and Weaver was sick, but that shows grit by Joburg that they fought and never gave up. Finally my team decided to play a little more defense and grabbed some rebounds.”
In addition to Cassidy’s 20 points, Robbins added 10 points and LaLonde scored eight points.
Matthew Davidson and Jason Richter led J-L with nine points apiece. Davidson also hauled in 10 rebounds.
“Matthew was great on the boards tonight, very physical in the paint,” Huff said. “He has really stepped up and played within himself. I can’t be happier with him this season. Now that we need him in the starting lineup, he’s come to play.”
Finnerty added six points for the Cardinals, and Joey Chrencik pitched in with five points.
“I thought the game went about the way we thought it would,” Huff said. “We held Cassidy in check in the first half, made life difficult for him.”
The win helped Pellston (13-2, 10-1 Ski Valley) remain a game ahead of Mancelona and a half game ahead of Gaylord St. Mary for the conference lead. The Hornets still have to face both teams before the end of the season, although both games are in Pellston.
J-L edged by Mancelona
MANCELONA — The Johannesburg-Lewiston boys basketball team suffered a tough defeat Friday night, falling 64-58 to Ski Valley Conference rivals Mancelona.
Losses are never easy, but the Cardinals defeat was even more difficult to swallow considering they led by as much as 15 points early in the fourth quarter.
Cardinals head coach Troy Huff was very displeased with the refs after the game, highlighted by Mancelona’s 38 free throws shot to his team’s 16.
“Some of the calls changed the outcome of the game. They fouled Preston (Marlatt) out early in the fourth and he wasn’t even 30 feet from where the foul took place it should have been on Joey (Chrencik).”
Gavin Weaver joined Marlatt on the bench after receiving his fifth foul shortly after Marlatt. The already undermanned Cardinals, with Carlos Gascho and Sheldon Huff out with injuries, were forced to go deep into the bench at crunch time against a physical Ironmen squad.
Mancelona was still out four players, including two starters, for an undisclosed reason, but others continued to step up in their place. J-L held potential all-state candidate Jayden Alfred to a modest 21 points by his standards.
Jason Richter led the Cardinals with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Marlatt added 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Chrencik scored 12 points with four rebounds.
“The team as a whole has come together with the injuries,” Huff said. “Matthew Davidson does everything, gives me everything he’s got. I can’t say enough about him. Preston has taken the point guard reigns with Carlos and Sheldon out and he continues to set up.
“All and all the team is really fighting hard. Honestly we could be leading the conference if we finished some free throws.”
The Cardinals get another tough conference opponent Wednesday when they head to Pellston.
ELLSWORTH — The Johannesburg-Lewiston boys and girls basketball teams have been beset with injuries this season, and the Cardinals boys learned over the weekend that starting point guard Sheldon Huff would be out up to a month with an MCL injury.
Already playing without Carlos Gascho, another starting guard, J-L picked up a tough loss Friday against Gaylord St. Mary, and another tough loss Monday night at Ellsworth.
J-L lost 67-62 against Ellsworth, as Joey Chrencik again stepped up with 20 points, four assists and four rebounds.
Logan Finnerty added 13 points and five assists for the Cardinals, with Preston Marlatt scoring six points and dishing out 11 assists.
“Overall we didn’t shoot free throws very well, which played a big factor in the outcome of the game,” Cardinals head coach Troy Huff said.
The Cardinals next head down to Mancelona on Friday.
No. 9 Gaylord St. Mary sprints past undermanned Cardinals
GAYLORD — The Snowbirds finally found themselves in the Associated Press rankings this week, and they were not going to relinquish that accomplishment so soon.
Playing for the first time since earning the No. 9 ranking in Division 4 boys basketball after defeating No. 4 Pellston in their home gym earlier this month, the Snowbirds edged Johannesburg-Lewiston 61-53 Friday night in a tough rivalry game.
Gaylord St. Mary’s gym was packed to the brim. Fans from both teams lined the bleachers with passionate cheers. The two student sections even got into their own battle late in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a fun atmosphere for the players on both sides,” Cardinals head coach Troy Huff said. “Dale (Jacob) coaches his team well, and it’s fun to watch. There’s a lot of hype for this game.”
The action on the court took center stage after the the opening tip. Neither team could get much going offensively, early. Both teams boasted excellent football teams, and many of the football stars were on the court Friday night, which may be why the game, at times, resembled a football game.
J-L, already without starting guard Carlos Gascho due to a knee injury, was also down Sheldon Huff. The junior guard was injured in 7-on-7 football action, and the severity of his knee injury remains to be seen.
Playing without their two main ball-handlers, the Cardinals leaned on sophomore Preston Marlatt and Logan Finnerty to orchestrate the offense.
The Cardinals led 12-11 after the first quarter, using their overall size as an advantage cleaning up boards and finding space around the basket.
However, the Snowbirds’ speed finally starting paying off in the second quarter. Steven Koscielniak finished an acrobatic layup on the baseline, and moments later buried a 3-pointer which prompted a J-L timeout.
St. Mary retained its momentum to take a 26-17 halftime lead, using a half- court press to force Cardinals turnovers.
After halftime, the already raucous crowd ramped up the decibels to a feverish level. The players seemed to respond on the court, settling into a frenetic pace.
“(The crowd brought) a lot of energy, but I think it almost ramped us up too much at times,” Jacob said. “The adrenaline got going and they sometimes played (the player in front of them) more than the scheme of the defense.”
“But this was exciting. We love the fans being here and it was a fun game.”
The Cardinals came out of the locker room the aggressors, scoring from beyond the arc and from near the basket. The game was physical throughout, so both teams endured plenty of fouls. But neither side backed down.
St. Mary was still up by seven points late in the third quarter, with just seconds ticking away at the clock. Snowbirds star Brady Hunter was playing keep away from the Cardinals defense trying to save the ball for the quarter’s final shot. But he was called for a five-second violation, giving J-L the ball with just over 10 seconds remaining.
J-L didn’t look very convincing on that final possession, but Finnerty created some magic, taking a dribble back close to mid court and hoisting up a rainbow that went through for a buzzer-beater. All the sudden, the Cardinals were only down four points with one quarter to play.
“Logan has the capability of hitting those big shots, and Preston (Marlatt) assumed Sheldon’s role tonight. I told him he played a phenomenal game. The score sheet doesn’t show the battle he was in, so hats off to him as a sophomore.”
Marlatt helped keep the Cardinals around in the fourth quarter, handling the Snowbirds’ press with aplomb, but the Snowbirds’ team speed was too much to overcome for the Cardinals.
Snowbirds freshman Brody Jeffers buried back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to give his team some separation. Hunter had been running circles around the Cardinals defense throughout most of the game, but St. Mary had been unable to space the court with deep shots. Jeffers’ barrage from beyond the arc gave Hunter the space he needed to ice the game.
“That was a big moment, and it was nice to see (Brody) shoot it in rhythm, and it was nice to see him hit a couple back-to-back threes,” Jacob said. “He’s a heady player for a freshman.”
Cardinals senior Joey Chrencik turned in one of his best games of the season, scoring a team-high 19 points. He was a force around the rim all night, grabbing rebounds and posting up Snowbirds defenders deep in the paint.
Finnerty added 14 points for the Cardinals, while Jason Richter and Matthew Davidson scored six points apiece.
Hunter led the Snowbirds with a game-high 21 points. He again proved clutch, scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter. Conrad Korte added eight points, while Koscielniak and Alex Pudvan scored seven points apiece.
“J-L came over and played a really hard game, big rivalry matchup,” Jacob said. “They had a couple guys hurt, but they fought, so I give them credit for a great game.”
“I think our players did a nice job sticking it out and getting it done when we had to.”
Despite the loss, Huff was pleased with his team’s effort in a hostile environment.
“I thought our boys stood up to the challenge and they never quit,” Huff said. “It was down to the last minute a five-point game. A shot here or there could have been the difference. I thought my team played outstanding.”
“We just have to keep gelling. We are in a good spot in the conference and we just have to keep improving.”
The Snowbirds improved to 9-1 with the victory while J-L fell to 5-5, losing just its second game of the new year.
Cardinals continue winning ways
JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals boys basketball team picked up another dramatic victory Thursday night, edging Onaway 66-59, moving to 4-1 since the new year.
Johannesburg-Lewiston continued it offensive progression after a slow start to the season. The Cardinals scored under 50 points in two of their first three games, but Thursday’s 66-point effort marked their fifth straight game with at least 57 points.
Bench contribution was a main key to J-L’s success against Onaway. Sophomore Preston Marlatt and Matthew Davidson both checked in to lead the team with 15 points apiece.
For Marlatt, it was the possible start to a positive trend after he led the team with 18 points in a win earlier in the week.
The Cardinals were bolstered late by Gavin Weaver, a 6-foot-4 small forward. Weaver scored nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, helping J-L escape with a narrow victory.
“Gavin played extremely well tonight,” J-L head coach Troy Huff said. “He played really well, and our bench played really well.”
After a run of home games, the Cardinals next head to Gaylord St. Mary on Friday in a tough Ski Valley Conference showdown.
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News
JOHANNESBURG — Continuing their run of good form to start 2020, the Cardinals boys basketball team defeated Inland Lakes 57-46 in overtire Tuesday night.
Johannesburg-Lewiston started the season 0-4, but have since won four straight games to get back to .500 this season. The Cardinals also seemingly have a different leading scorer every night, something that bodes well for their depth.
Preston Marlatt led the Cardinals Tuesday, scoring a season-high 18 points with eight rebounds, four steals and three assists.
“He finally turned it on,” Cardinals head coach Troy Huff said. “He’s a very capable young man. He’s extremely athletic.”
Joey Chrencik added 18 points and six rebounds for J-L, while Sheldon Huff, Gavin Weaver and Logan Finnerty scored seven points apiece.
“I thought we played very well overall,” Huff said. “We are getting a lot of guys scoring in double digits which is nice if someone is off.”
J-L needed some other players to step up Tuesday with key rotation players Shawn Ziobron and Jason Richter unable to play.
Although Huff was pleased his team scraped out the victory, he had a few tense moments late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.
“In the third quarter we had a 10-point lead, but they hit a couple threes to get back in it,” Huff said. “We played pretty good defense most of the game.”
“It was nice to go into overtime and find a way to win that. The boys stayed composed, and I thought we did really well attacking the basket and getting good looks."
Cardinals defeat Bellaire 64-16
BELLAIRE — The Cardinals boys basketball team must have enjoyed a wonderful holiday break because they have looked like a renewed team since the new year.
Despite losing junior point guard Carlos Gascho for the season with a knee injury, the Cardinals have earned three straight wins, including Thursday night’s 64-16 rout over Bellaire.
“We played really well and everyone scored,” J-L head coach Troy Huff said. “I only have one returning starter from last year. I was going to build the team around Sheldon (Huff) and Carlos, but we now have four different players, and we are starting to find that chemistry.
“We still need to work on things, get patient looks and cut down on the turnovers, but we did all of that tonight.”
Joey Chrencik led the Cardinals with 12 points. Huff added 11 points with six assists and six steals, while Matthew Davidson added seven points and three rebounds off the bench.
J-L (3-4) fell to 0-3 before Christmas break, struggling to consistently score points. But the Cardinals have since gone 3-1, with with their only loss a close battle against undefeated Pellston.
The Cardinals are out of action until Tuesday when they host Inland Lakes
Cardinals three-sport star Sheldon Huff makes time for excellence
OHANNESBURG — The typical week for Johannesburg-Lewiston three-sport star Sheldon Huff is a little different than the normal high school student.
Not only is Huff currently leading his Cardinals team, serving as the starting point guard, he also earned all-area honors for another fantastic football season. When Huff isn’t attending school, studying or working on his basketball game, he’s honing his skills in football and baseball.
We are currently in the heart of the 2019-20 basketball season. Teams are playing two-to-three games per week with practices in-between. Huff also competes on a competitive 7-on-7 Legacy Football team down in Saginaw on the weekends, trying to get more exposure.
“I’ve always been around sports, and it’s always been a true passion of mine,” Huff said. “My first word was ball. My brothers were always doing something sports related: lifting, shooting hoops, ping pong. We were always having fun and trying to get better.
“Basketball is big in our family, but football is my main sport. The 7-on-7 is all about passing. It helps your defensive coverage. In Northern Michigan games are 75 percent run. As an inside linebacker I don’t see much passing, so I need to improve my skill in pass defense, so this will help me grow my game and get exposure, covering quick guys and showing I can stick with them and stop them.”
Huff, a powerful junior running back/linebacker, could often be seen carrying defenders on his back or making a key block to free up space for his teammates. He finished the season with 1,354 yards rushing with 13 total touchdowns this season.
While Huff has the power game down, he’s using the offseason to improve his speed and turn into an all-around rushing threat.
“I want to get faster on my breakaway runs, but the power really helps,” Huff said. “I can break tackles from linebackers. I’m trying to focus on my energy keeping that up, and having the power to not get tripped up at the line. I love trucking defenders.”
Trucking defenders may be Huff’s passion, but when he isn’t lowering his shoulder into a defender’s shoulder pad, he’s lowering the boom on an opposing team’s running back. As a linebacker this past season, Huff amassed 119 tackles with 10 tackles for loss and three sacks.
“Defensively if I get a chance I’m going to give a big hit,” Huff said. “I’m kind of a bull sometimes. I like to hit them high, but I’ll hit them low if I have to. I just want to make the tackle and have them go down right away. Usually I can afford to hit them high, but sometimes I’ll have to wrap them up at the knees. It’s fun making those big hits.”
The Cardinals orchestrate offensively in a classic wing-t formation. Having two talented players in the backfield is a necessity, so Huff was asked to make a position switch from his sophomore season.
“We needed a running back and full back this year. Last year I was a tight end, but our coach told me to lower my shoulder and fight for extra yards,” Huff said. “This offseason I worked on my speed and leg strength to help me get the extra yards. In midsummer I got told I would be moving to running back, and I wanted to improve to help the team out.”
In true Northern Michigan fashion, an intense blizzard touched down on J-L’s field the night before their second-round playoff game against Beal City. Although it was only November, a little early for eight inches of snow and sub-20 degree temperatures, Huff and the Cardinals were downright excited about the weather.
“We were just super pumped. We are all hunters in the snow and are out on the snowmobiles. We are outdoor guys,” Huff said. “We were hoping they would come up here and be shocked by the snow, but we were ready to go. We practiced the night before in the lights in the snow, and I thought that night that we were going to do something special.
“The snow was fun, we had a snowball fight that night in practice. It was a blast. Our coach came out from parent-teacher conferences in shorts and a t-shirt and got us all fired up. We were all pumped up.
“The Beal City game had a few things that didn’t go our way. They were a tough, good-coached team. It was a fun battle to be in.”
Although the Cardinals’ season ended there, Huff was pleased with his team’s work ethic and improvement throughout the football season.
“It’s always nice to get accolades, like the players deserve, but we did very well in the conference,” Huff said. “Our goal was to get to state and be the first in school history to do that. We didn’t care what people said or thought about us. We just wanted to always improve.
"We had each other’s backs he whole time. We talked to each other all the time. It was different than before. I felt really comfortable with all the players.”
Once the football season ended, Huff, like many of his gridiron teammates, had to switch focus over to the hardwood for basketball season. The transition was a little sluggish out of the gate, as J-L entered winter break winless, but it has since rattled off three wins in four January games.
“Over break, I felt like we started having some really good practices working as a team and getting better,” Huff said. “I’m the only starter back from last year. I’ve played with (some of the guys before), but we weren’t full time playing and Logan (Finnerty) didn’t play last year. Most of us hadn’t played full together since eight grade and our chemistry had to grow again.”
Huff was always expected to be one of the team’s main ball-handlers this season, but when junior point guard Carlos Gascho went down with a season-ending knee injury back in December, Huff was asked to step into the main facilitator’s role.
“I like both (on the ball and off the ball), last year it would be Carlos or me running the point. I’ve taken more of a passion with it this season because I know I have to do it,” Huff said regarding his point guard duties. “I’ve become more gelled with it. It doesn’t really matter to me off the ball or on the ball, I just want to help the team. Point guard is a difficult position, but I have help.”
The Ski Valley has proved to be a tough conference with some solid teams and electric individual performances. Mancelona’s Jayden Alfred has been a threat for 30-plus points every night, and Pellston’s Blake Cassidy kicked off a three-game stretch of 40-plus points with a 45 spot against J-L. Forest Area, Onaway and Gaylord St. Mary have also looked a threat to win the conference, but the Cardinals are still in the mix.
“It’s a weird league this year, where if you don’t come to play every night, you are probably going to get loses handed to you,” Huff said. “We are all about the same skill level, but if you don’t come to play you’re going to take a loss. We just work our butts off and do what we can.”
After basketball season, Huff will turn his attention to baseball. Although his already crammed schedule needed little else on it, Huff and the rest of the Cardinals’ team practices in open gyms on Sundays to prepare for the upcoming season.
“I go between shortstop and third, and I pitch sometimes as well,” Huff said. “My brother Logan went to college to play and he brought things back to me that he learned. I’ve played travel ball the last couple years with some of the St. Mary kids and it was so much fun. When I was younger baseball was just okay to me, in little league, but it became one of my first loves as I got older.
“We will be a tough team, we will be a competitor. We lost two key guys from last year’s team, but we have guys willing to step up. We work on open gyms on Sunday, and I’m ready to step up and be our No. 1 pitcher this year. We will be pretty athletic. Our baseball team will be almost the same as out football team, so the chemistry will be there. I think family is one of the most important things on a team.”
No matter which sport Huff is competing in, he only has one motto, which has helped him become one of the most dominant athletes north of Grand Rapids.
“I always strive to beat the guy in front of me, but the main thing is to help the team win,” Huff said. “You have a goal to beat that guy, but you have to get the win at the end of the day."
Sheldon Huff flirts with triple-double to lead Cardinals past Forest Area
JOHANNESBURG — Proving the physical football-star dominated squad can show some finesse and win a shootout, Johannesburg-Lewiston soared past Forest Area 85-73 Tuesday night at home.
Despite Forest Area draining 17 shots from beyond the arc, the Cardinals dug deep and earned a key home victory. After a bit of a slow start to the season, and losing starting guard Carlos Gascho to a torn ACL, J-L has emerged in recent weeks.
Senior leader Sheldon Huff almost recorded a triple-double for the Cardinals. Huff scored 11 points with 11 rebounds and nine assists. He has become the team’s main facilitator with Gascho out.
Logan Finnerty led the Cardinals with 21 points, scoring numerous baskets off the fast break, showcasing a deft touch around the rim.
Jason Richter added 20 points for J-L, proving strong with his back to the basket. He also drained 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
J-L head coach was also impressed with Preston Marlatt, who scored 10 points with six assists and six rebounds.
“We are getting multiple guys scoring, and it’s hard to stop a team with that many guys scoring in double figures,” Huff said of his squad. “Forest Area is a good team. They lost by one point to Pellston, so I knew it would be a good game. I think we are starting to find our mark a bit.
“We’re shooting the three-ball fairly well. We can be a little streaky, but we don’t live or die by the 3-point line. I thought it was a total team effort.
“I think we are finally starting to gel and get our productivity in the right direction. I think we are all starting to trust each other a bit on
Overtime thriller lifts Cardinals to first victory
JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals boys basketball team survived an overtime clash against Central Lake on Thursday night to claim a 72-69 victory, their first of the young 2019-20 season.
Enjoying a hot night shooting the basketball, J-L led by 15 points entering the fourth quarter. The Cardinals had endured a couple of terrific individual efforts in its previous two loses, but would not be outdone Wednesday.
Central Lake made a valiant surge in the game’s final quarter, earning multiple and-one attempts at the free-throw line. The Cardinals got into an ill-timed offensive lull, which allowed Central Lake to force overtime.
Momentum is often one of the strongest components to a basketball game. Nearly every time a team rallies to force overtime, they go on to win the game, as the other team has not yet recovered from the shock.
But the Cardinals were made up of stronger stuff, bouncing back in overtime by utilizing a balanced offensive attack.
“We had a lot of guys contribute tonight, and we shot the ball well,” Huff said. “I thought we played pretty good on defense, but both teams just hit a lot of shots. We are starting to find our groove a bit and hopefully we can keep building.
“We put great pressure on the ball. We had tight man-to-man defense. Defense wins games. We need to get a little better sliding over, but we have the potential.”
Sheldon Huff led the Cardinals with 21 points and 10 rebounds. The powerful football star had been struggling with his shot, so his coach was pleased to get him back on track scoring the ball.
“It’s huge to get Sheldon scoring like this,” Troy Huff said. “I ask a lot out of him. He handles the ball a lot, and it was nice to see his confidence come back with his shooting.”
Logan Finnerty continued his offensive progression with 12 points, while Gavin Weaver and Preston Marlatt pitched in with nine points apiece for J-L.
Although the Cardinals were able to get into the win column for the first time this season, the team also received some devastating news this week. Sophomore starting point guard Carlos Gascho will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL and meniscus.
Gascho, who earned all-state honors for cross country this fall, will also miss the entire track season in the spring.
Huff was disappointed to lose Gascho, the team’s main ball handler and distributor, but he was still encouraged with his team’s continued improvement this season.
“We’re right there in the conference,” Huff said. “We just need to gel and make better decisions and we will be right where we need to be.”
The Cardinals next host Forest Area on Tuesday.
J-L edged by Pellston after Blake Cassidy scores career-high 45 points
JOHANNESBURG — Basketball is a team sport, with each individual on the court playing an important role. But the Johannesburg-Lewiston boys basketball team was undone Tuesday night by one of the best individual performances in Ski Valley Conference history.
The Cardinals fell 65-58 to Pellston, with Hornets star shooting guard Blake Cassidy pouring in a career-high 45 points.
“They threw everything at him and just some nights, talking as the coach, you just stand back and watch because he does some pretty amazing things,” Pellston coach Larry Cassidy said. “Certainly his teammates help him, get him a lot of ball screens and do a lot for him, but when he’s feeling it like that the rim probably looks like the ocean.”
J-L started the game with 6-foot-4 Gavin Weaver on the 6-foot-5 Cassidy. Weaver held Cassidy to a respectively low 16 points in the first half, but he got into foul trouble during the second half and had to come out of the game.
That’s when Cassidy really took over.
Still, despite one player having a career night, and still playing without star point guard Carlos Gascho, the Cardinals hung tough.
“I was really proud of the guys,” J-L head coach Troy Huff said. “We were a little lax in the second quarter tonight, we fell out of our rhythm there, but these are great teams we’re playing and we’re right there. We are a young team and we keep improving.
“I think we are right there. Were going to win some games even though we are 0-4. We are right where we need to be. We just have to play all four quarters and finish games off.”
Logan Finnerty led J-L with 23 points, draining six shots from beyond the arc. Jason Richter added 10 points, and Sheldon Huff scored three points with eight assists and five rebounds.
“(Logan) had a big first game and then fell out of his grove a bit, but he had a great game,” Huff said. “He’s very athletic and shot the ball well.
“Jason had a phenomenal night off the bench. He was very strong going to the basket.”
In back-to-back games, J-L has had to face Mancelona’s Jayden Alfred (25 points) and then Cassidy (45 points). Cardinals fans are likely tired of facing off against Northern Michigan’s elite scorers as the two combined for 70 points respectively in those two games.
With Gascho expected back soon, J-L will look to get into the winner’s circle Thursday at home against Central Lake.
Cardinals basketball stumbles late against athletic Mancelona squad
JOHANNESBURG — A palpable energy emitted throughout the gym Thursday night in Johannesburg, and that seems to be the effect Mancelona guard Jayden Alfred has on Northern Michigan so far this season.
The Cardinals, in search of their first win of the season, had the nearly impossible task of stopping Alfred and Mancelona despite again playing without star sophomore guard Carlos Gascho, who is nursing an injury sustained in the team’s first game.
J-L hung tough against the Ironmen, but Mancelona rallied in the fourth quarter to earn a 62-47 win.
Throughout the first quarter, it was evident both teams wanted to push tempo. J-L got out and attacked Mancelona, and the Ironmen countered with an onslaught of 3-point attempts.
Mancelona grabbed a 14-12 lead after the first quarter, but the hungry Cardinals team gave it fits on the offensive end. The Cardinals had a clear plan of blocking Alfred, who led Mancelona with 25 points, from getting to the basket.
“We talked about taking the lane away from him, sliding over on help defense, and unfortunately in the second half we had some starters follow out, and he found some lanes around the basket,” Cardinals head coach Troy Huff said. “He’s a strong kid.”
After an up-tempo first quarter, the second quarter slogged at a snails pace, as whistles came flying early and often. The game was a bit gritty in the second quarter, and Mancelona, subsequently shot 11 free throws in the quarter alone. Alfred made all 10 of his attempts in the second quarter.
“They are a run-and-gun team and we try to push the ball up the court as well, and it effects the style of play when the whistles are that heavy,” Huff said. “It tests team depth.”
J-L fell behind 25-16 early in the second quarter, but an 8-0 run got them back in the game. The Cardinals were relentless in passing lanes all night, which helped force a number of Ironmen turnovers.
Mancelona, however, answered with a run of its own to take a 31-24 lead into halftime.
With a couple of key Cardinals players in foul trouble entering the third quarter, J-L played a little more conservatively on both ends of the court. Still, J-L trailed by under 10 points throughout the entire third quarter, until Mancelona finally wore them down in the fourth.
With two Cardinals players on the bench with five fouls, Alfred finally had the space he needed in the fourth quarter to take over the game. He scored eight points in the fourth quarter, consistently getting to the basket. Although Alfred did not throw down one of the dunks he’s become famous for, he did attempt and acrobatic alley-oop, but the pass was just too far away for him to finish the play.
Despite a hard-fought, determined effort, the Cardinals ran out of gas in the fourth quarter, and the Ironmen pulled away late.
The Cardinals feature a number of stars from their playoff football team. Sheldon Huff, Logan Finnerty and Preston Marlatt were all key pieces to the football team’s long run, and J-L has adopted a very physical mentality on the basketball court, too.
“We knew coming in that Mancelona was very physical around the rim,” Huff said. “We knew we needed to be more physical. I thought we did a nice job boxing out in the first half, but we got a little tired in the second half. We weren’t quite as effective after the break.”
Gavin Weaver led the Cardinals with a career-high 12 points. The 6-foot-4 slasher consistently beat his man, and he showed some nice touch around the hoop. Marlatt also scored 12 points, and it could have been much more, as several of his 3-point attempts went in and out.
Huff, back after missing the Cardinals’ last game with the flu, had the tough task of guarding Alfred, and he never got into a rhythm offensively, scoring just three points. But Huff snagged 10 rebounds, and helped keep J-L in the game through the first three quarters.
“I thought overall the boys played hard,” Troy Huff said. “We’re still trying to find how we gel. Guys are stepping up, but losing Carlos was a big thing for this team. He and Sheldon are our main ball-handlers, so with Carlos out, it’s just Sheldon up top.”
“We will just keep working and trying to get better over the break, and hopefully we will get Carlos back after the break.”
J-L next faces an explosive Pellston team with yet another one of Northern Michigan’s best players in Blake Cassidy Tuesday, Jan. 7.
Cardinals boys suffer season-opening loss
JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals boys basketball team kicked off its season Tuesday at home with a 78-64 loss against Roscommon, struggling with rebounding and turnovers.
J-L pounced early, scoring 19 points in the first quarter, while draining four shots from beyond the arc. In all, the Cardinals hit 10 3-pointers for the game.
But Roscommon fired from deep as well, and they consistently out-rebounded the Cardinals. J-L, despite featuring three talented guards, also struggled with turnovers which led to easy Roscommon baskets.
“We shot well from the floor, but we just need to clean some stuff up and box out better,” J-L head coach Troy Huff said. “We probably gave up 20-30 points on second chance efforts. But that’s something we will figure out.”
Logan Finnerty led the Cardinals with 17 points. Huff was glad to have the star running back on the team this year after sitting out last season. Finnerty immediately proved why, draining five shots from beyond the arc.
Sheldon Huff added 12 points for J-L, and sophomore point guard Carlos Gascho scored 11 points.
J-L will look to get back on track Tuesday at Posen.
Johannesburg-Lewiston 2019-20 boys basketball season preview
JOHANNESBURG — Electric enthusiasm emanated throughout the Johannesburg-Lewiston gym, as the Cardinals boys basketball team prepared for the upcoming season.
Despite losing its top three scorers from last season (Tanner Shimel, Tyler Madej and Tyson Claeys), the Cardinals seemed exuberant and determined to get the 2019-20 season underway.
“Those three seniors were a large part of our offense. Tyson was a 1,000-point scorer and Tanner was right there near 1,000 points as well,” J-L head coach Troy Huff said. “They were both four-year starters for me, and Tyler came up his sophomore year, so we’re going to have to develop new leadership.”
Luckily for Huff and Cardinals fans, the team already has a pretty good idea from where that leadership is going to come.
“We have two returning starters who are both point guards in Sheldon Huff and Carlos Gascho,” Huff said. “They both handle the ball really well.”
“I have three other potential starters in Joey Chrencik, Matthew Davidson and Gavin Weaver, who came off the bench last year and gave me really good minutes. I expect a lot out of those young men, and I know they will produce for us. They have very good basketball minds, high basketball IQs.”
Huff enjoyed yet another outstanding football season, rushing for over 1,300 yards and leading the Cardinals on a playoff run. The other half of his elite running back duo, Logan Finnerty, has returned to the basketball team for his senior season after sitting out last year. J-L quarterback, sophomore Preston Marlatt, is also back on the team to give solid minutes at either guard spot.
Gascho returns to the team as a sophomore, ready to put his speed and shooting ability to good use. He earned all-state honors in cross country, and he hopes to embark on another long run for basketball.
“The final minutes of the game in tight games is all about composure, and having Sheldon and Carlos be another year older, I’m hoping they will help lead this team to a conference and maybe a district championship,” coach Huff said.
“I think we will be quicker on the floor this season, and we will be much deeper. I have five guys on the bench I can put in the game and I won’t lose much, if anything, when they are in. Our depth is a strength. I don’t think I’ve had this much depth throughout my entire coaching career here.”
Guard play will again be important for J-L this season, but the Cardinals do have some size and length, especially on the wings.
“We do (have some size) we are a bit longer than normal. Weaver is just over 6-foot-4 and he plays shooting guard, so he will be a tough matchup for opposing teams. We then have a couple more kids around 6-foot-3, and are tough to get through.”
The Ski Valley Conference is among the most underrated across the state as far as depth is concerned, with almost every team hopeful of a title run.
“There are some good players in the league like Blake Cassidy in Pellston, who is already a 1,000-point scorer, and Brady Hunter at St. Mary. It’s going to be a very competitive year with a lot of good teams. You can’t overlook any opponent any night.”
The Cardinals suffered a 51-43 defeat in the district finals last year to Oscoda, narrowly missing out on regional action. Huff expects a similar challenge again this season as the Cardinals look to make a deep run.
“Oscoda is going to be really good this year. They have everyone returning and they won the district last season,” he said. We lost in a back-and-forth game. Hopefully, we can keep improving throughout the season, work on some different things, and stick around a bit later in the postseason.”
J-L kicks off its season Tuesday, Dec. 10 at home against Roscommon.
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