Experience triumphs in Thunderbolt win over AGS
MIO — Mio-AuSable entered Wednesday's Class D boys’ district championship game with a 6-13 record, while AuGres-Sims was 11-10.
But the numbers that mattered were 31 and 1. That's the number of district titles won by Mio and AGS, respectively. And while the Mio players of decades gone by weren't in uniform, that tradition still carries weight even during a sub-par season.
Despite their record, the Thunderbolts played with the confidence of a championship team, while the Wolverines came out tight and didn't find their game until far too late.
As a result, Mio claimed its 32nd district title with a 62-51 victory over AuGres-Sims and advances to Monday's regional semifinal in Traverse City.
"These last two games (including Monday's upset of Fairview), we showed we can play more consistent basketball," said Mio coach Dennis Kann. "Our hustle was great from start to finish. I was a little concerned we might rest on our laurels after beating Fairview, but we came out pretty strong."
Mio attacked the rim relentlessly, both on offense and on the glass, while the Wolverines missed multiple easy shots and failed to get back on defense. The combination led to a 27-16 Mio lead at the half.
Clarence Buhlman, who only played the second half of the season after transferring from Ogemaw Heights, took over the game in the third and early fourth quarters, scoring 13 of his 18 points in an eight minute stretch as the Bolts built an insurmountable 50-28 lead.
AGS outscored Mio 23-12 over the final five minutes, but it was far too late to change the outcome.
"Mio really did a good job of playing aggressive offense," said AGS coach Gordie Ostrander. "But part of that was the way we came out. We didn’t play defense at all. We were so tight. We were playing not to lose, rather than playing to win, and you can't do that.
"But give Mio credit. They know how to handle games like this."
"We knew we needed to attack the basket," Kann said. "Jonathan Allwardt was the only guy we allowed to take a '3'. We had excellent hustle, and our seniors played the best they have all year.
"We may have been 5-13 in the regular season, but I'd rather jell now than early on. We're jelling at the right time."
For the Wolverines (11-11), who got 16 points from Travis Byard and 12 from Chad Taylor, it was a tough end to an up-and-down season that saw them make a seven-game improvement in the win column over a year ago.
"It wasn't a good way to go out," Ostrander said. "It's disappointing not so much that we lost, but that we didn't 'have it.' But all in all the kids did what we asked them to do. We got a lot better.
"It's just tough to lose a district final."
K.C. Fox added 13 points for Mio (7-13) and Aaron Kososky added eight. The Thunderbolts will likely play unbeaten Ellsworth in Monday's regional semifinal, but Kann was more focused on his own squad.
"(Legendary UCLA coach) John Wooden always talked about how you just need to take care of yourselves," he said. "We're not going to worry about what the other team does. We just need to work on our game, keep refining things, and execute when the time comes."