EAST LANSING – The blue and yellow brick road was paved with character and hard work.
So read T-shirts worn by Climax-Scotts basketball players making their first appearance at the MHSAA Semifinals on Thursday.
How excited is the school much better known for its nine straight football playoff appearances? The rest of those shirts sold out to the student body in less than a day.
And that yellow haze swallowed up the Panthers as they celebrated a 52-44 win over Carney-Nadeau that earned Climax-Scotts its first berth in an MHSAA hoops championship game.
“It means the world to do something nobody in the history of our school has done before. The feeling’s pretty much indescribable,” Climax-Scotts senior guard Brandon Eshuis said. “Our student body probably wanted this just as bad as we did. … We had a huge crowd and a huge support group, and it really helped us.”
The No. 5 Panthers (26-1) will face No. 7 Southfield Christian in the Final at 10 a.m. Saturday.
They advanced by taking advantage of a few big ones.
Carney-Nadeau’s tallest player was just 6-foot-1, good news for Climax-Scotts’ 6-7 junior Aaron Cook (12 points, 14 rebounds) and 6-7 all-state senior Malachi Satterlee (12 points, nine rebounds). Total, the Panthers outscored Carney-Nadeau 28-6 in the paint.
The Wolves also have relied almost solely on five players for the last two weeks and never subbed in the Semifinal. Climax-Scotts looked a little worn at the end Thursday night – but went on a 9-3 run over two minutes to turn a three-point lead into a 49-40 advantage with 1:08 to play.
What Carney-Nadeau (23-3) does best is shoot from outside, and "3-pointer" became the buzzward among the Panthers over the two days leading up to the game. Climax-Scotts’ second stringers were given green lights to shoot from NBA 3-point range at practice Wednesday in an attempt to imitate what the team would see.
“We had anticipated shooters, and they were just amazing when we got here,” Panthers coach Steve Critchlow said.
Wolves junior Wade Schetter scored 15 points, with three 3-pointers, while senior Keenan Lampinen added 12 points and senior Lucas Moreau scored 13. All three took at least 15 shots from the floor. But as a whole, the team made only 29 percent.
“This has been a long two weeks for us, with tough games night in and night out,” Carney-Nadeau coach Jason Polfus said. “Maybe the kids were worn out a little bit. But they stuck it out today. They kept fighting today, and I can’t say enough about that.”
PHOTO: Climax-Scott's Aaron Cook attempts to block a shot by Carney-Nadeau's Lucas Moreau on Thursday. Cook blocked two shots in the game. (Photo courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.)