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Morenci holds off a late charge by Lakes, heads to first state final with a 53-52 victory in Class D

By: Scott Burnstein, March 26, 2015, 9:18 pm

East Lansing – Morenci enjoyed its first time in the Class D semifinals so much it’s decided to stay a little while longer.

Morenci survived a nail-biter on Thursday at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, prevailing over previously-unbeaten Waterford Lakes, 53-52, to advance to the program’s first state championship game.

Morenci (24-2) will play North Powers Central (26-0) on Saturday at 10 a.m.

Lakes senior forward Nick Robak was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer in the left corner with 0.6 seconds left and his team down three. Robak made the first two then missed the third to send Morenci into the state finals.

Morenci coach Jim Bauer signaled for a timeout once Robak made his first attempt to ice him for the next two. It worked.

“I wasn’t calling a timeout because I had something to say, I wanted to make Robak as nervous as possible,” Bauer said. “There’s a reason he was chosen to be a first-team all-state player. We were worried. Luckily, things worked out for us when it was all said and done.”

Robak recorded a double-double (21 points, 11 rebounds) and was an all-state selection the past two seasons.

Morenci led throughout most of the game, jumping in front 22-15 at the half and 37-34 after three quarters. Robak’s pull-up jumper from the right corner gave Lakes its second lead of the game, 38-37, in the opening 90 seconds of the fourth.

The Bulldogs regained the lead on the next possession when Alex Thomas scored on an offensive rebound to spur a 7-0 run. Still, Morenci had to hold off a spirited effort by the Lakers late.

Thomas’ pair of free throws provided Morenci a 44-38 lead with just under four minutes to go. A Robak lay-up pulled Lakes to within 46-45 with 1:48 left.

Following a miss on the other end by Morenci, the Lakers had the chance to go ahead again but Robak’s missed on a 3-point attempt.

Bobby Black’s two free throws, a lay-up by Torin Merrilat, set up via a beautiful dish from senior point guard Austin Sandusky and three straight Sandusky free throws looked to have put the game to bed – giving Morenci a 53-45 lead with 23 seconds left. But the Lakers had a chance at the end.

A basket by junior point guard Andrew Kline (12 points, six assists) and a long 3 by Robak made it 53-50 and, after a quick Morenci turnover, Lakes had possession with just five seconds left underneath its own rim.

“We had the guy we wanted at the line with the game hanging in the balance,” Lakes coach and Robak’s uncle, Paul Robak said. “We’re not here playing in this game without him.”

Lakes ended its season 25-1, the best record in program history. The Lakers were 6-of-14 rom the free throw line Thursday and missed a number of layups.

"We didn’t execute, we didn’t shoot well from the field or the line and we missed a lot of two-footers," Robak said. "You can’t do that and expect to win games like these."

Thomas headed the Morenci offense with 19 points, 13 in the second half, and seven rebounds. His backcourt partner, Sandusky (seven points, six assists, three steals), made their coach a promise when he started high school four years ago.

“When he was a freshman, Austin told me, ‘Don’t worry, coach, I’m going to take us to the Breslin Center,’” Bauer, in his 10th year on the bench at the helm of the Bulldogs program, recalled. “Man, did he and his teammates come through on that one.”