Less than 24 hours removed from a convincing regional semifinal victory over Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary, the Hillman boys basketball team is once again back in a familiar spot.
It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since one of the most storied programs in Division 4 over the past decade has won a regional championship.
After capturing four regional crowns in a five-year period between 2014 and 2018 that featured some of the best teams in school history, Hillman has come up short the past four seasons, but this year, the Tigers are back on the prowl as the orange and black has restored its roar, while being back on the regional championship stage and Hillman is once again among the top teams in the state.
Unlike many of the championship teams during that regional title stretch, this Hillman team has been much more battle-tested. The 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 regional championship teams lost a total of just three regular season games during that four year period and were absolutely dominant.
This group of Tigers hold a 21-4 overall record, but have yet to lose to a Division 4 team, with all four losses coming against bigger schools across Divisions 1, 2 and 3. The victories have been far less dominant than in past years, though Hillman has had its fair share of blowouts this season, with their most recent one-sided win coming last night in the regional semifinal.
This Hillman team may not have finished with an unblemished regular season record or dominated all of its opponents, but this group has surely bought into what head coach Eric Muszynski has built throughout his legendary coaching career and this team is a testament to the foundation that is Hillman basketball.
A team built on hard-work, determination, effort, defensive intensity and grit is what makes this battle-tested Hillman team just a bit different and these Tigers appear to be playing their best basketball at the right time.
Of course, it helps having the best player in the program’s rich basketball history and arguably the best player in the state leading the way in junior superstar Trenton Taratuta, but just as important are the pieces around him. Caleb Hively, A.J. Jones, Braylon Firman, Blake Kennard, Brody Appelgren and Brenden Rouleau proved in yesterday’s regional semifinal victory that the confidence throughout the entire roster is oozing.
Typically, March is full of its madness, with games this time of the year coming down to the final possession, but the Tigers have cruised to its first regional championship appearance since 2018, with three double-digit victories to open postseason play.
If history is any indication of the Tigers chances of hoisting some more hardware and raising another banner tomorrow night, Hillman will snap an unusual four-year regional title drought as the Tigers are a perfect 4-0 in their last four regional championship games.
Hillman (21-4) will square off against Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Academy (18-6) tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. in Houghton Lake with a regional championship on the line and trip to next Tuesday’s quarterfinal game in Standish against the winner of Frankfort (16-8) and Lake Leelanau St. Mary (20-3).
“At this point in the season you expect a tough game no matter who you play, but I think playing bigger schools and better teams allowed us to hit our stride late and we are playing our best basketball of the season right now and at the right time,” Muszysnki said. “We have a confidence now coming into each game and we’re going to do what we do. A lot of our program is about just doing what we do and we’ll adjust accordingly. We’ll fine tune, shore some things up along the way and see if we can bring a regional championship back to Hillman. It’s been a while since we’ve won one and I told the guys the 2018 number is getting lonely up on the banner, so we’re hungry to bring home another trophy.”