Hillman by a hair

LINCOLN-The Hillman and Alcona boys basketball game on Monday was the kind of game that gets coaches red in the face and the fans up in the aisles: Alcona came within two points of upsetting Hillman in a 59-57 game that featured lots of defensive pressure.

“We were kind of riding that high off of beating Mio and now we’re learning that every game we got to treat like a Mio game,” Hillman coach Eric Muszynski said.

Hillman (7-1, 4-0 North Star League), who has yet to lose in the North Star League, held a tentative 52-50 lead with just under three minutes to go before Alcona’s Trenton Lavergne hit a basket to put Alcona up 53-52.

Lavergne immediately stole the inbound pass and hit the easy basket to give the Tigers a 55-52 lead.

“We needed to put the pieces together at the end. We probably should have stopped them from driving to the hole, they took advantage of that on us. We moved the ball real well, defensively we played real well, but towards the end we didn’t step up,” Lavergne said.

Lavergne led Alcona (3-4) with 25 points.

Hillman, who had led much of the game, increased its defensive pressure and held Alcona to two points the rest of the game.

Hillman later led 58-57 and Mason VanPamel then stole the ball under Alcona’s basket with five seconds left in the game. He was fouled at 3.3 seconds and took his shots. He missed, but Hillman got the rebound, securing its win.

VanPamel led Hillman with 13 points.

“I think when we came together as a team we got down in the huddle. Our goal is to come together as a team, we’re brothers, and we had to come out playing defense and that’s what we did. It was a tough game and we had some hiccups, but luckily everybody played well tonight and everybody pitched in,” VanPamel said.

It was a dramatic win to a back-and-forth game that saw both teams playing at their best at points, while also struggling at times.

Alcona’s big success came in tight man-to-man defense that set up key traps and steals. It tended to grab offensive and defensive rebounds to create second scoring chances for itself and shut down chances for Hillman.

Hillman had several big fast break moments that should have extended its lead, but Hillman had bad luck making the ball drop.

“I thought early on tonight we had a lot of opportunities on the offensive end. They just weren’t going in. We had a lot of nice quality shots, some good fast breaks, but we weren’t finishing,” Muszynski said.

Alcona’s defensive pressure and Hillman’s offensive struggles helped contribute to a 19-17 Alcona lead at the end of the first quarter.

Hillman came out strong in the second quarter, with Ty Jones hitting a trey 15 seconds in to give Hillman a 20-19 lead. Jones hit two threes for the night and picked up 12 points.

Lavergne hit a basket a minute later to give his team a 21-20 lead with just under seven minutes to play.

Hillman picked up several big baskets from VanPamel, Brenden Zimmer, Dylan Ross and Gunnar Libby. It outscored Alcona 14-9 in the second, but a trey by Jason Steiner helped narrow Hillman’s lead to 31-28 at the half.

The third period saw Alcona run into some foul trouble, giving Hillman nine shots at the line and Hillman went 7-for-9.

Hillman started the third quarter with a scoring run to pull ahead 41-32 with four minutes left to play. Alcona went crazy from beyond the arc, hitting three treys in the last three minutes to tie it up 45-45 with 27.6 seconds left in the period.

A pair of free throws by Ross and a last second steal and score by Jones pulled Hillman to a 49-45 lead.

“This is our seventh game together. They’re learning me, I’m learning them. For some of these guys, its the third coach in three years. I got a good effort out of them and I’m proud of them. I think that we’ll go places from here, this is good for our team,” Alcona coach Jason Somers said.

Hillman travels to Oscoda on Friday while Alcona hosts Whittemore-Prescott on Thursday.

HILLMAN (59): T. Lavergne 12-0-1-25; G. Norling 1-0-0-3; J. Steiner; 3-0-2-8; C. Jamieson 8-1-1-17; D. Forsythe 2-0-2-4.

ALCONA (57): D. Ross 3-2-2-8; T. Jones 3-4-9-12; G. Libby 2-4-5-8; M. Klein 4-1-5-9; M. VanPamel 5-2-6-13; B. Zimmer 2-1-1-5; D. Julka 2-0-0-4.

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