Before Tuesday, North Farmington had never played on a stage as big as the state quarterfinals or in an arena as big as University of Detroit-Mercy’s Calihan Hall.
But observers might not have detected that. The Raiders came out calm, collected and ready to play, racing out to a 10-0 lead which set the pace for a 70-57 victory over Sterling Heights Stevenson in a Class A quarterfinal.
Both teams were similar — senior-dominated with a balanced offense and a strong perimeter game — yet the Raiders didn’t get caught up in the moment with a trip to the Breslin Center on the line.
While U-D Jesuit and Ypsilanti played in the first game of the doubleheader, the Raiders arrived early, settled into the corner section of the upper bowl and took in the atmosphere. And that paid big dividends for North Farmington (23-2).
“It was nice to watch the first game and kind of get the jitters out; see how everything was going to go,” center Alex Darden. “This is an amazing gym and playing here was really a blessing. It was awesome the whole night.”
“Playing the second game tonight really helped the kids get used to the environment, get used to the large crowd, and I thought the quick start for us really was key,” North Farmington coach Todd Negoshian said. “We knew we needed to come out of the gate with some energy and get some stops right away, and that was huge for us.”
Although Stevenson battled back to within 12-9 on consecutive baskets by Luke Lamoreaux, the Raiders kept calm and answered with a 12-2 run and never surrendered their lead all night, which was double-digits from much of the rest of the way.
“We try not to get too high, too low; we just want to be flat-line for 32 minutes,” Negoshian said. “At times this year we haven’t, but in a big game like this, a big environment, knowing what’s on the line, kids have a tendency to go up and down the line. Being able to sit and relax during that first game and take in the environment really helped us.”
Conversely, the quick start seemed to throw Stevenson off its game.
“We never got in the flow that we wanted, because we didn’t get the stops early,” Stevenson coach Mark LaCombe said. “But when we got the stops in the first half, they scored with second-chance points. They probably had 12 offensive rebounds in the first half. So when you get stops and give them second-chance points on the cheap ones, it’s tough to get in the rhythm.”
The Titans (20-5) had four players in double figures: Vince Ramaci (15 points), Bryce Miller (12) and Lamoreaux and Stacy Howard (11 apiece). But North Farmington matched that, getting 18 from Amauri Hardy, 15 from Billy Thomas, 13 from Jacob Joubert and 12 from Darden.
Friday’s semifinals at East Lansing may be an even bigger stage for the Raiders, but at least they’ll get another chance to watch an early game, as undefeated foes U-D Jesuit and Macomb Dakota clash at 1 p.m. before North Farmington meets upstart Lansing Everett at 2:50.