Snowbirds peck away at short-handed Cardinals
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News
JOHANNESBURG — The Gaylord St. Mary and Johannesburg-Lewiston boys basketball teams faced off in a rivalry matchup Tuesday night.
Both teams started off a bit hesitant offensively, with the first points put up on the board over four minutes into the game. Eventually, led by Conrad Korte, the Snowbirds cruised to a 55-23 victory over the short-handed Cardinals.
“We were short tonight," said Cardinals assistant coach Frank Claeys, who was filling in for head coach Troy Huff. "We had some kids playing in spots and roles they aren’t accustomed to. We were missing a couple kids to injury, a couple to (quarantine), so it is what it is.
"We are going to have to play a couple more games like this. We will build off this game and come back.”
St. Mary led 11-2 after the first quarter, with Korte dominating in the paint. Korte continued his momentum into the second quarter, leading the Snowbirds to a 29-8 halftime advantage. Korte had 18 points at the break.
The Snowbirds extended their lead out to 40-11 after the third quarter, and after getting some fresh legs in their for the fourth quarter, headed home with a 32-point win.
“What I’m most happy about is that we executed our game plan to rebound against a big J-L team and not foul," Snowbirds head coach Dale Jacob said. "We finished the game with three fouls, and that’s not by accident. We really emphasized that fouling is a penalty. We don’t want to put them on the line. That’s tough, and we did a great job. We are showing some discipline, and offensively we ran the floor well and got the ball where it needed to be.
“Conrad was big tonight. He’s playing good. He hit a 3-pointer. I don’t think we played our best game yet, but hopefully we do that Thursday.”
Korte led the Snowbirds with a near triple-double. He scored 25 points with 18 rebounds and seven steals. He also threw in three blocks for good measure.
Gavin Bebble came off the bench to score 12 points for the Snowbirds, while Brody Jeffers scored nine points.
“I’d love to have five guys in double figures," Jacob said. "It makes it harder to defend. I do think we have good options. On any given night, Conrad is a big presence. We have Brody who is versatile and Gavin, Daniel Smith, Dom Keister and Chris Koscielniak give us a lot of energy on the court.”
Carlos Gascho and Jordan Crane led the Cardinals with eight points apiece. J-L was without Preston Marlatt, Shawn Ziobron, Sheldon Huff, who is out for the season, Ethan Voss and Mason Myers Tuesday night.
Claeys is excited to see what the Cardinals can do once back to, or at least near, full strength.
“We play really good, unselfish ball together," Claeys said. "You can kind of take that for granted with some teams, but we really do play unselfish ball. We are on guys to even be a little more aggressive individually. But they are capable. If we can get the whole squad together, they are very capable.
"I want to be able to give St. Mary a better game than that. I know we would have been able to if we even had the rest of our squad without a couple injuries. If you give us a couple more guys, we are in a pretty good spot overall.”
The Snowbirds improved to 5-1 on the season and remain undefeated in Ski Valley play. They have a potential conference championship matchup Thursday night at Mancelona.
“It’s a big game, I’m not going to try and underscore that," Jacob said. "I think everyone has (Mancelona) as the favorites to win the league. Certainly coming into the season everyone believed that. I think we are playing well right now, and I like our chances to go down there and have a good game against a really athletic team and see what happens.
“I think the pressure is on them. We are looking forward to Thursday.”
The Cardinals next host Alcona on Thursday.
Cardinals three-sport star Preston Marlatt continues breakout season on basketball court
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News
JOHANNESBURG — A quarterback often serves as the metronome of an offense, and Cardinals multi-sport star Preston Marlatt certainly helps his teams remain in rhythm.
The Cardinals’ boys basketball team got off to a 2-2 start this season, again battling some injuries, just like last season. But Marlatt has consistently been among the team leaders in scoring, rebounds and assists, continuing his athletic success established during the football season.
“Hopefully we can win out this year and still have a shot at conference (title),” Marlatt said, regarding basketball. “Our first practice we talked about how we wanted to win conference and districts. I would love to win districts. I like to win. I don’t like losing.
“We’re still working things out since we just started. It’s about getting the feel again after not having summer camps and the football season just ending.”
The football season was exciting for Johannesburg-Lewiston. The Cardinals went undefeated in the regular season, earning a third straight division title. They then earned a district title, making a postseason run all the way to the state semifinals.
Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, the season ended in the semifinals against Ubly. However, with Marlatt starting at quarterback, it was one of the best seasons in school history.
“It was very fun,” Marlatt said. “It didn’t end how we wanted it to. At the start of the season I would have never thought we’d make the semifinals, especially after thinking we wouldn’t have a season. I was happy just to play.
“I’ve been playing quarterback since fifth grade. I know the offense very well. This year I took a bigger step than what I took last year.”
Although football and basketball are two completely different sports, Marlatt did find some similarities, especially in his role for each sport.
“I find football and basketball similar in passing, reading the court like I read the field in football and being a little quicker,” Marlatt said. “The main similarity is reading the defense.”
But neither are necessarily his favorite sport.
“Baseball and football are pretty much tied as my favorite sports,” Marlatt said. “I like playing center field, diving for fly balls.
“I’m interested in playing sports in college. I haven’t really been putting myself out there. But over the summer I’m going to put myself out there more for baseball. I’d love to play any sport in college.”
Marlatt certainly seems to have the talent and skill to play sports at the next level. He’s also grown in height and added muscle since last season. But while some people value strength, others value skill. Marlatt has shown the ability to power through opponents or beat them with his athleticism and skill.
“You can be the strongest kid out there and not know what you are doing,” Marlatt said. “But you can also be super skillful and the smallest guy out on the court. Strength has a lot to do with sports, especially football, but you have to find what suits you best.”
One of Marlatt’s most obvious attributes has been his poise. Marlatt plays basketball, football and baseball seemingly unfaded by his competition, as if he was a 20-year veteran. In some ways he almost is, as he’s played sports most of his life.
“My parents helped me get into sports,” Marlatt said. “We have an athletic family, and I was raised around sports. I enjoyed that, and it’s basically all I did growing up.”
Marlatt has obvious physical gifts in multiple sports, but he’s also savvy mentally, always reading defenses and keeping his emotions in check.
“I’m able to keep mentally level,” Marlatt said. “I don’t get mad over things. I keep a solid mindset. My coaches help build us up physically and doing agility. We are always getting better that way.”
Like most high school athletes, Marlatt generates most of his inspiration from those closest to him on a daily basis.
“My teammates help pump me up before games,” he said. “We’ve been competing together a long time. I also enjoy the crowd atmosphere.”
With sports back up and running, Marlatt and his J-L teammates appear poised to compete for a Ski Valley Conference title in basketball and baseball this year. Marlatt could be a huge factor in both of those title races.
Cardinals earn decisive win
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News
BELLAIRE — The Johannesburg-Lewiston Cardinals earned their first win of the season Friday with an emphatic 53-16 statement at Bellaire.
After losing their season opener, the Cardinals bounced back Friday night to improve to 1-1 this season.
J-L had a balanced scoring attack against Bellaire. Preston Marlatt and Shawn Ziobron led with 11 points apiece, both connecting from beyond the arc. Jordan Crane added nine points for the Cardinals, while Carlos Gascho and Jason Richter each scored eight points.
The Cardinals have multiple players capable of putting up solid scoring nights, but they will miss star guard Sheldon Huff for the season with a knee injury.
J-L will look to continue its momentum Tuesday at Inland Lakes.
Cardinals topple Inland Lakes
INLAND LAKES — The Johannesburg-Lewiston boys basketball team fought off a scrappy Inland Lakes squad Tuesday night to earn a 57-40 win.
J-L improved to 2-1 with the victory, utilizing their depth and athleticism to defeat Ski Valley Conference foes.
The Cardinals were without starting point guard Carlos Gascho Tuesday night due to COVID-19 protocols, but a myriad of players stepped up in his place.
Jordan Crane earned a start for J-L, and led the team with 13 points. Crane, at just over 6-foot-4, slammed home an impressive dunk, while offering the Cardinals a new look with his size and versatility.
Preston Marlatt continued his solid season with 11 points. Hayden Claeys impressed with nine points and some nice passing. The Cardinals also got solid contribution from Logan May (six points) off the bench.
After a tough opening-game loss, the Cardinals have quickly settled in and remain among the favorites for the Ski Valley Conference title
Cardinals boys lose after Forest Area’s second-half rally
JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals’ boys basketball team was unable to get their season off to the same quick start as the girls, falling 47-40 against Forest Area.
J-L actually led 18-8 at halftime, using its athleticism and strength to stifle Forest Area’s offensive attack. But Forest Area caught fire from beyond the arc after the break, draining six 3-pointers during 24-11 second-half run.
“We missed a ton of easy buckets, like I’ve never seen before,” J-L head coach Troy Huff said. “I don’t know if it was first-game jitters, but we were 11 for 40 in the paint. It was a rough night shooting around the rim. They weren’t hard shots, they just rolled in and out. It’s just the way it was. Our players fought, but Forest Area got hot when they needed to.
“Those shots will fall. We are a good shooting team. They just weren’t falling tonight. Everyone has those nights. When we get in a rhythm with more shots on the court, they will go down.”
Junior Preston Marlatt led the Cardinals with 15 points. Jason Richter added nine points, and Shawn Ziobron scored five points.
Huff was also impressed with 6-foot-4 senior Jordan Crane, who scored two points off the bench.
“Jordan Crane is a big kid who is going to get better and better. I’m excited to see him develop this season,” Huff said.
The Cardinals will look to get in the winning column
J-L boys basketball preview: Cardinals bring depth, experience to SVC race
JOHANNESBURG — In the blink of an eye, the Cardinals’ incredible football run has turned into an entirely new season; basketball time has finally arrived.
The Johannesburg-Lewiston boys basketball team returns a deep, talented squad poised to make noise in the Ski Valley Conference title race. Now healthy, after suffering through multiple back-court injuries last winter, the Cardinals should be a formidable force.
“It’s going to be a different season because of how short it will be,” J-L head coach Troy Huff said. “The Ski Valley only has 11 games scheduled. There are a lot of different hurdles to cross for us.
“We are going to do a lot of drills in practice early on until we can have contact. I have a majority of my starters returning, so we have a good core coming back who are all basketball minded.”
With the current COVID-19 mandate restricting schools to only non-contact practices, Huff and the Cardinals get an opportunity to work on skills and conditioning.
“I always start my season with a lot of dribbling and shooting drills,” Huff said. “This plays right into what I like for the first week. It will be tough setting up our defense and seeing where our breakdowns are, though. Those are some things teams might struggle with early in the season.”
The Cardinals return a tremendous back-court trio in Preston Marlatt, Carlos Gascho and Sheldon Huff. Gascho missed most of last season with a knee injury, and Huff also missed a handful of games due to injury. Now back fully healthy, on the heels of a successful football season, momentum should be on their side.
“We have Carlos coming back from his knee injury. Sheldon and Preston are also returning as guards,” Huff said. “I’m really excited about how well we performed last year without some of our key players.
“We had several young players step up in a big way, so getting the continuity of Sheldon and Carlos back should be very exciting. We should have great team chemistry this season.”
The Cardinals also feature plenty of back-court depth with Shawn Ziobron, Logan May and Cordell Campbell all likely to earn heavy minutes.
“This is one of the most experienced teams I’ve had,” Huff said. “The guard play is so important. You have to be able to get the ball up the court. Sheldon and Carlos are proven at point guard, and Preston has experience there. Shawn also gave me good minutes last year. He’s solid defensively and can hit an open look. I don’t know if I’ve had a team with this much depth.
“Keeping fresh legs, running a lot of full-court man-to-man, we’ll utilize some of that,” Huff said. “I think teams will struggle with the depth that we do have, and the speed of the game.”
J-L also has some height in the front-court. Jason Richter (6-foot-5), Jordan Crane (6-foot-4) and Ethan Voss (6-foot-4) will all compete for starting spots and playing time, allowing the Cardinals to play with bigger or smaller lineups based on matchup. Huff seemed especially excited about the multitude of front-court options at his disposal this season.
“I think we’re going to be taller than we’ve ever been,” Huff said. “Ethan has been practicing all summer. At 6-foot-4 and developing speed, I expect big minutes. I’m excited all the way around.
“Crane is returning from injuries. This will be his first year back since his freshman year. Richter and Hayden Claeys will get more minutes this year, too.”
J-L will have to make a quick transition from football to basketball. The Cardinals just finished their football season last week with a state semifinals loss against Ubly. J-L now has to change its focus to basketball, quickly, as games will start flowing fast and furious once cleared to begin.
“We should be in decent shape coming in,” Huff said. “Most other schools probably haven’t practiced too much more than us. We are an athletic group who can go 10-12 players deep with lots of players able to contribute.
The Ski Valley title race is seemingly wide open this winter. St. Mary lost Brady Hunter and Pellston graduated Blake Cassidy. Mancelona returns athletic combo guard Jayden Alfred, and Onaway’s Jager Mix is tough to handle in the paint.
But, overall, it should be a tight race between numerous teams.
“I’m excited about the group of guys we have coming back. Mancelona has a good crop coming back, as does Onaway and St. Mary. It should be an interesting year."
Basketball preview: Predicting the Ski Valley boys season
GAYLORD — The 2020-21 Michigan high school basketball season might be on hold due to COVID-19, but winter sports are still scheduled to commence.
Last year’s Ski Valley Conference-title race came down to a fierce battle between Pellston and Gaylord St. Mary, which ended in a draw. Sharing the crown marked the Snowbirds’ first conference title in 18 years.
The Snowbirds then marched into the postseason hopeful of a long postseason run, but the tournament was cancelled during districts as COVID-19 devastated the globe.
Now, the start of the 2020-21 season hangs in the balance as a second COVID-19 wave has spiked across Michigan. But the hope of high school basketball remains. Should the players be allowed to take the court, expect another spirited competition for the Ski Valley title.
Here is a prediction of what to expect from the 2020-21 Ski Valley boys basketball season:
Every year, entering a new season, there are a shortlist of teams expected to contend for prominence. A plethora of factors make up these predictions — returning players, incoming freshmen, other teams losing key players and overall program success.
With that being said, here are a couple of teams seemingly at the forefront of the upcoming title race:
Mancelona — Heading into the season, Mancelona has to be considered not only a Ski Valley Conference contender, but also a squad capable of a potentially deep tournament run.
Led by 6-foot-3 senior Jayden Alfred, an athletic wing who excels at getting to the basket where he often finishes with an emphatic dunk and can also step out and hit 3-pointers, this team should be very deep. Alfred could emerge as one of the most explosive players in the state this season.
The Ironmen also return a capable supporting cast. Adam Ackler and Justin Ackler provide athleticism, while a host of senior guards should add stability to their offense. Mancelona might be able to physically bully its way to a conference title this season. But they are also highly skilled.
Johannesburg-Lewiston — Watch out for the Cardinals. After enjoying an unprecedented fall, where the football, volleyball and both cross-country teams won their respective conferences, the Cardinals proved this is obviously a school filled with talented athletes.
The front-court took a hit with the loss of Matthew Davidson, Joey Chrencik and Gavin Weaver, but Jason Richter and Hayden Claeys look poised to step up in their place. The Cardinals also had a number of athletic forwards on JV last season, hoping to find a place in the rotation.
J-L’s back-court endured an injury-riddled season last winter, as Carlos Gascho went down with a torn ACL, and Sheldon Huff also injured his knee. In their absence, Preston Marlatt stepped up as a premier outside-shooting threat while directing the offense.
The Gascho-Marlatt-Huff back-court trio should help propel the Cardinals into conference contention even if the front-court takes time to figure things out. Overall size, depth and talent makes this Cardinals team one to watch this winter.
Gaylord St. Mary — Despite suffering substantial loses from last year’s co-championship season, the Snowbirds should have enough athleticism and carry over to make some noise again this winter.
Steven Koscielniak, Drew Koenig, Brady Hunter, Alex Pudvan, Alex Powers and Colton Inglis have all graduated, but the Snowbirds have a host of exciting players ready to step up in their place.
Sophomore Brody Jeffers and seniors Conrad Korte and Dom Keister will likely step into the starting lineup, while JV standouts Gavin Bebble and Daniel Smith might join them.
Korte, a 6-foot-4 forward who can leap with almost anyone in the conference, displayed a nice mid-range jump shot last season. Keister and Jeffers offer athleticism and outside shooting on the wings, while Bebble and Smith could split point guard duties and can also hit from beyond the arc.
The Snowbirds might not have as much depth as last season, but this team has the athleticism to hang with almost anyone in the conference.
Inland Lakes — After a successful football season, Inland Lakes proved it has the athletes to also win some games on the basketball court. After hovering around .500 last season, Inland Lakes could make a big jump this winter.
Onaway — Speaking of big jumps, Onaway had a young squad last season that struggled against more physical opponents. But the Cardinals return some intriguing players who could make a big leap and help them vastly improve on last season’s 6-16 record.
Projected Ski Valley Conference finish:
3. Gaylord St. Mary
4. Inland Lakes
6. Central Lake
7. Forest Area
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