by BRYAN EVERSON
Some teams prefer to lean on their seniors come March, but Troy will continue to foray deep into the playoffs without a single one in its starting lineup.
The Colts were able to put the clamps on Warren De La Salle Wednesday night, winning 48-40 to advance win the program’s first regional title since 1989.
“It’s indescribable to be honest,” Troy junior Jason Dietz said. “I love this game so much.”
Doing it in the gym of their rivals, Athens, was just the cherry on top.
“It’s even better,” Dietz said. “We beat them twice this season, so technically we consider it our home court.”
Troy certainly closed out both its regional games like it owned the place. After pulling away from a one-point game with a 31-4 run in the third quarter in Monday’s regional semifinal victory against Lake Shore, the Colts (21-4) weren’t quite as dominant after halftime in their follow-up performance, but De La Salle had no answer offensively.
A combination of Troy’s zone defense and a poor shooting night led to the Pilots shooting under 20 percent from the floor in the second half on 40- plus attempts.
“We packed it in, and we prayed they’d miss, and they did,” Troy coach Gary Fralick said.
A layup by Pilots senior Josh Vaillancourt left his team down by just three with 3:49 left in the third quarter, but the Colts, who led by six at halftime, would follow it up and build their biggest lead yet. Troy scored three times on as many consecutive possessions, including a 3-pointer by guard Clay Sebastian, and Dietz helped wrap up the third on a 12-2 run thanks to a mid-range jumper and a triple in the corner that boosted the lead to 13.
De La Salle managed to cut the gap back down to five with over four minutes to go, but even when Troy stumbled with several turnovers and empty possessions, the Pilots missed one 3-pointer after another and suffered a scoring drought that lasted over four minutes down the stretch.
Dietz, who averages over 17 points a game, didn’t score until over midway through the second quarter, but ended with a game-high 16 and also blocked several shots for Troy.
“He can shoot the ball,” Fralick said. “He’s pretty clutch.”
Major contributions came from Troy’s other juniors, including Leon Ayers and Danny Sully, who finished with 14 and six points, respectively.
Fralick heaped praise on his group for being one that doesn’t get rattled easily in close games, especially considering its lack of seniors — there are just three on the team, and one of them, Isaiah Smith, missed the regional round due to illness.
“They have a lot of confidence in themselves, and it’s growing by the game,” Fralick said.
Luke Pfromm, who helped knock off Athens in districts, struggled with his shot in the loss for the Pilots, but still finished with a team-high 15 points.
Troy will play in a Class A quarterfinal on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against West Bloomfield, who also advanced Wednesday with a win over Novi in double overtime, at Calihan Hall on the campus of University of Detroit Mercy.
Wednesday’s triumph marked the sixth regional title in program history for the Colts. When they last advanced this far in 1989, they were knocked off by a Detroit Southwestern team that included NBA veterans Voshon Lenard and Jalen Rose.