By Mike Moore (Photo by Ryan Kerwin, JTV Sports)
Marshall — With every passing round, every new trophy presented, and every sun rising on another game day, the stakes get higher as the stage gets brighter.
For the first time in program history, the Northwest girls basketball squad has the leading role in a quarterfinal performance tonight.
“In the moment, this really means we have a chance to play for a spot in the final four,” coach Ryan Carroll summed up. “That’s what every kid wants to do when the season starts. That should be the goal, and we have a chance for that tonight. To have that chance, needing one win, it’s pretty exciting. It’s something our kids have talked about all year.”
Carroll admitted his excitement and nerves leading into the 7 p.m. tilt at Marshall.
A program that had never won a regional title, the Mounties are one of just eight teams still alive.
“That’s tough to put into words, really,” Carroll said. “I’ll catch myself smiling thinking about what we’ve accomplished, and that’s what we have stressed. We don’t want to worry about what could be, but we have to appreciate the moment of all this. We’ve been ranked all season, which is fun, but to have a tangible and meaningful result like we have, that’s what really means something. That’s real.”
That’s also the challenge at hand now, keeping this special and historic season going.
Northwest enters the game at 23-1 on the season, having won 21 games in a row.
It’s tough to find a team playing better basketball right now, unless, of course, you consider tonight’s opponent.
Hamilton started the 2017-18 season with a loss.
Since then, the Hawkeyes have won 24 games in a row, thanks in large part to a defense that allows only about 32 points per game.
“How we play in the paint defensively and on the boards is where this game will be decided,” Carroll said. “That’s a big team that plays fast and aggressive. They crash the boards hard, even if they don’t take the best shot. At the same time, we can be very similar defensively. The team that plays better on that defensive end will be successful. At the same time, we have to play fast. We can’t let them set up their defense. They will be too comfortable if they can set up and it’s going to make things tough on us.”
With two teams so evenly matched and a combined 45-game win streak on the line, there aren’t many places to find a distinct advantage for either squad.
Or is there?
Northwest is set for about a 30-mile trip west on I-94 to play in a gym it’s very familiar with.
Hamilton has a trip nearly three times as far set for this afternoon.
“I think it really can be an advantage,” Carroll said. “We play in this gym every single year. I know their fans will travel, and we expect it to be crazy. But being in a familiar setting, we’re excited about that. You know the gym. And this can really be a calming factor for our kids. Psychologically that can be a big difference when you understand the lighting and the walls and so on.”
Carroll laughed when asked what a victory tonight, and a shot in Friday’s semifinal, would mean.
“It’d be even more validation to what this program has been and is capable of doing,” Carroll said. “We’ve been good for a long time and have been on the brink a couple times. For the rest of the state to see what Northwest girls basketball is would be exciting.”
Mike Moore is a play-by-play commentator and Sports Writer for JTV Sports.
He’s also a Realtor with Real Estate One, specializing with buyers and sellers throughout Michigan, from the Jackson area to metro Detroit. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (313) 770-6365 with any inquiries.