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Hillman Defeats Mio to Repeat as District Champions

MIO, MI- When you combine a sold out high school gym, the two best teams in a given tournament and put a district championship on the line, you are going to get the best out of everyone.  The Hillman Tigers and the Mio Thunderbolts battled for the district crown in a game that reflected just how good both these teams were.

Mio had suffered just one loss this season, a 67-42 defeat at the hands of Hillman. For the rematch they had center Gage Long back in the lineup. While Hillman was still the favorite, a 25 point blowout was not going to happen again.  Hillman threw the first punch in this one, racing out to a 15-5 lead after just five minutes. Trenton Taratuta and Braylon Firman got the Tigers going early.  The Bolts refused to be rattled and started chipping away, Austin Fox found success in the mid range and Zeke Morris made plays happen on the baseline. After 8 minutes Hillman led 16-14.

The second quarter saw the Bolts move out in front, at one point taking a three point lead. Fox who had 25 on the night have Mio a 24-22 lead with a minute left in the half. A mini 5-0 Hillman run ended the frame. AJ Jones banked in a three pointer at the buzzer to give Hillman a 27-24 lead going into the locker room.

The third quarter was a pattern of Hillman looking like they were about to pull away and Mio just refusing to give in. After Fox tied the game up at 35 with another three pointer, Taratuta responded with the next seven for Hillman. He had 14 in the third which gave him 27 on the night. Hillman went up 44-36, but buckets from Long and Fox got the Bolts back within four as the final frame began.

The fourth quarter started with Taratuta, who finished with a game high 37 knocking down back to back shots to extend the Hillman lead to 7. A bucket by Firman gave Hillman their largest lead of the half at 50-41.  Mio refused to let Hillman run and hide but Hillman made the plays necessary. The dagger came with about four minutes left. With Mio down 8, Firman made a tremendous  chase down block on one end and then buried a three on the other. It was a five point swing that turned what could have been 6 into 11.  Mio would never get closer than nine the rest of the way, Hillman came away with a 63-53 win and a second straight district title.

Coach Ty McGregor and Mio have nothing to be ashamed of. They finish the year at 19-2, with both losses coming to Hillman. They won the outright NSL Big Dipper title. Tonight they battled tooth and nails with the best team in the area.  They simply did not have the superstar on the roster that could take the game over.  When Mio tied the game up at 35, Taratuta simply became too much. He wore down the Mio defense, got to the rim and hit enough jump shots to keep Hillman in front.   In  a game where the stars needed to shine, Taratuta and Fox each both showed up for their squads.

Hillman Coach Eric Muszynski praised his teams efforts. ” We had guys step up. AJ (Jones) and Braylon (Firman) played well and Blake Kennard had one of his best games after Caleb Hiveley got into foul trouble.”  When discussing his superstar, Muszynski offered the well deserved praise. “Trenton is just special. It is great having someone of his caliber out there. He can just take over a game.”

The title is the 7th district title in the last 10 years.  Hillman now advances to the regionals. They take on Saginaw Michigan Lutheran. The regional will be hosted by Deckerville. Hillman and Lutheran square off Monday at 5:30.