BENAC: Reliving the thrills of March Madness

Well, March Madness is over and the Northeast Michigan sports world can calm down for a few minutes. We at The News can relax for a few weeks, get our heads straight and get prepared for the spring sports season.

But thinking back on the last few weeks, it’s amazing how many great games there were in the districts and the regionals and how much amazing high school basketball was played this year.

Who can forget the Alpena boys streaking to the district final? Watching Luke Cordes have a stellar senior season to end his high school career was a thrill to all Alpena fans and seeing a young Tyler Pintar grow into an incredible point guard was also a thrill.

But who can forget the rebounding and shooting skills of Kam Fitzek, Blair LaCross and Andy Marwede? These players were just as important to the Wildcats as Cordes and Pintar.

Alpena may be losing key players like Cordes, but coach John Pintar has a good program and some good young players that have learned how to play together as a team. Next year should be a good year for them.

And how about them Hillman boys, eh? As a journalist, I maintain complete bias-free reporting. But as a Hillman-raised man who personally knew every player on the Hillman team from my days of substitute teaching, it was thrilling to see them do so well against normally dominant No. 2 Cedarville in the regional final.

I can remember when Mason VanPamel was about 5-3 as an eighth grader and then one year later he was as tall as me. I remember pulling my hair out over their antics in the classroom, but their performance against Cedarville kept me glued to my seat the entire game.

The Tigers really came out of nowhere in the last nine games to become a basketball juggernaut. Watching the Cedarville boys panic and curse under the basket should give Hillman hope for next season as they’ll surely be a team to watch.

Another game that won’t be forgotten any time soon was the Alcona girls district final game in Johannesburg. Joburg is one of the best teams in the state and has won a district title in four of the last five years.

Karina Cole and Megan Quick have become two of Alcona’s best players. Cole has emerged as an area leader in scoring and steals over the past few seasons and knows how to maximize offense by creating defensive chaos. Quick’s ability to hit key shots under pressure and her skill in setting up offensive drives is also key for the Tigers as is her quickness and ability to steal at will.

Karina’s younger sister Kendra is also going to be a player to watch for in Alcona for the next few years. Kendra may not be as fast as her sister, but her height, court presence, rebounding and drive will be vital to Alcona’s success.

What more can one say about the Posen girls team? They’ve been making a name for themselves the past few seasons and nearly won a regional title against St. Ignace. One could write a column focused just on their successes.

In fact, James is writing a column about Posen soon so I’m not treading on his toes by going into depth here. Let me just say, they have my respect and it’s always a joy to watch them play.

It’s so easy to focus on the dominating teams that it’s sometimes easy to forget the other teams; those teams that may not dominate, but can win games. Or even those teams that struggle during the regular season, but put in a great performance in the postseason.

I think a great example of a team rebounding for the postseason was the Posen boys team. Posen had a stretch of eight years with five district titles and has been one of the area’s best teams in recent years. The Vikings struggled this year after the loss of key players but were able to fight off a tough Onaway team in the first round of districts and made it to the district finals against Hillman.

Nick Hincka has been a dominant force for Posen in several sports and will be an important player to watch next year after he averaged 22 points a game this season along with double digits in rebounds.

Martin Mulka proved to be vital for Posen as well, seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the Vikings’ most vital offensive and defensive players. Mulka’s last second three-pointer to seal the deal against Fairview was one of the most exciting shots I’ve ever seen in my life.

One of the most interesting stories of March Madness was the play of the Rogers City girls team. The Hurons have some great athletes on the team but really struggled to get going throughout the season.

A betting man would have guessed that Rogers City would be knocked out by the rock solid Onaway girls team in the first round of districts, but the Hurons scrapped and came out with a big win.

Even more impressively, they played even better against the Posen girls in the district finals. At the end of the first quarter, they actually led the Vikings.

Posen went on to win the game but that performance sparked our interest. We’ve got our eyes on Rogers City now.

Focusing on these teams is not to slight any of the other teams we cover. The Mio boys put in a typically great season and won all but two of their games. The Atlanta boys, led by Garrett Badgero, may not have won a lot of games, but they could cause even the best teams some troubles.

I also have a lot of respect for the Hillman girls basketball team as well as the Fairview boys team. Teams like this showed lots of spunk and drive all season.

The teams and games I have focused on were simply some of the most exciting games of the post-season and truly illustrated the old adage: anything can happen in March Madness.

Eric Benac can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.