GREYLING — Sixty-five years is a long time to wait. But the wait was worth it for Grayling.
The Vikings — on their home turf in front of their home crowd — achieved something Wednesday that no Grayling college basketball team had done since 1957. They won a regional championship.
Locked arm-in-arm with head coach LJ Mead, several Vikings players made their way to midfield amid thunderous cheers and applause to grab the Division 3 Regional Championship trophy and hoist it to the above their heads as the crowd flooded the floor in pure joy and celebration.
The man had yet to land on the moon the last time the Vikings won a regional. Alaska and Hawaii were yet to gain statehood the last time the Vikings won a region.
But that’s the story, and Grayling (15-9) added a chapter to its own history books with the 52-40 win over a pesky Sanford Meridian side.
“It means everything,” said Mead, who took the program more than two years ago. “For this to be our road, our business…man, amazing.”
The senior Vikings beat Grayling in the 12-point win.
Dylan Cragg led with 17 points, nine in the first half and four each in the third and fourth quarters. Caleb Caul, who missed a few open looks early on, kept his composure and made confident drives to the basket in the fourth quarter to finish with a dozen points. Sparty Skillern had six points, including a clutch on a stumbling base drive that put the Vikes ahead 39-33 midway through the fourth quarter.
Sophomore Ethan Kucharek had five points, while Nate Persing, Cam Ketchum and Matt Pittman all had four.
“I couldn’t be prouder of these kids,” Mead said. “We had to grind, and we did. We worked hard and we persevered. »
Grayling led 10-7 after the first quarter and 20-14 with less than a minute left in the half before back-to-back buckets from Meridian’s Sawyer Moloy, including a baby hook at the buzzer, made it 20- 18 at Break.
The Mustangs (16-7) quickly took a one-point lead in third on a 3-point Cam Haiser on the wing, but Skillern’s offensive rebound and falling back on a missed triple from Caul put the Vikings back in the game. Mountain peak.
The game remained close throughout the rest of the third as the point guard went back and forth between the Vikings and the Mustangs.
Neither team held a more than two-point lead until Caul picked Dane Plichta’s pocket and sent the ball to a wide-open Cragg for a thunderous one-handed dunk that electrified an already burgeoning Grayling fandom and gave the Vikings a 35-31 lead as time runs out.
A lay-up from Caul to open the final quarter pushed the lead to six, but Nick Metzger responded to Cragg’s dunk with his own throw to make it 37-33 before Skillern’s gracefully ungraceful basket that once again whipped the Vikings crowd – especially the student-fan section – into an absolute frenzy.
Neither team could seize the momentum until the Vikings simply wanted him on their side.
Kucharek took a hard foul from behind from Plichta that prompted calls from the crowd for a flagrant and galvanized the Vikings onto the pitch. Grayling had six points in less than 30 seconds after the foul to push the lead to 10 at 45-35 with 2:15 remaining.
“Our coaches preach, ‘Don’t react,'” Caul said of Meridian’s physical and restless play. “That’s what we’re working on. Not reacting, just reacting with the way we play.
The Mustangs closed to seven points at 47-40 after a Plichta three, but Meridian head coach Mitch Bohn was called for a technical foul after Logan Crowder fouled Cragg with 65 ticks to go. player. Matt Pittman hit one of the two off the line after the technique.
“We feed off of that energy,” Cragg said. “Their team, their fans, they get angry, but we’re just relaxed.”
Kucharek, after being fouled again, walked to the line with a smile on his face and calmly sank both free throws on the 1 and 1 to freeze the win. Ketchum’s layup with 12 seconds left was the proverbial icing on the regional championship sundae.
“It means the whole world to all of us,” Kucharek said. “I love Grayling. I’ve lived here all my life. I love the crowd, the community. It’s the most packed I’ve ever seen in this gym. It amazes me to see all these supporters.
The Viking faithful will no doubt make the trip to Lake City on Tuesday when Grayling takes on Menominee (21-3) in the state quarterfinals. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“I just want to come back out there and love it and enjoy the moment,” Mead said as student band Grayling continued to play in the wake of the monumental victory. “Our community, wow. … To do this in front of our home fans, they filled this place. What a great environment.
Now the Vikings are just one victory away from high school basketball’s ultimate environment – the State Finals at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.
Although getting to East Lansing is the goal, Cragg said this Viking team won’t get ahead of themselves. The focus is on Tuesday and Menominee.
“We’ve worked so hard for this, and we’re not done yet,” Cragg said. “We will keep rolling.”