In Play with Tom Markowski

Winning has become a habit at Hanover-Horton

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

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Horton – Hanover-Horton pulled off one big surprise in the districts and it will be the underdog again when the Comets, ranked No. 5, take on No. 4 Hillsdale (22-0) in a Class C regional semifinal on Monday at Adrian Madison at 7:30 p.m.

Last Wednesday Hanover-Horton (21-1) upset No. 2-ranked Jackson Lumen Christi (19-3) 63-61. The Comets led by eight points with two minutes left and needed two free throws by Brock Spink with 2.2 seconds left to beat the Titans.

Two days later Hanover-Horton defeated Vandercook Lake, 54-47, in the district final.

Hanover-Horton has now won 14 consecutive district titles and it’s believed to be the state’s current longest streak.   

Hanover-Horton has never been to a state final but there was a time when both communities, located in Jackson County, supported separate high schools. In 1936 and ’37 Horton reached the Class D final but lost each time. In 1941 Hanover reached the Class D final and it also lost.

Chad Mortimer took over as head coach during the 1998-99 season and though he didn’t start the basketball tradition at the school, Mortimer has been instrumental in carrying on the tradition and creating stability.

In 2003 Mortimer guided his team to the Class C semifinals before losing to Flint Beecher, 68-63.

The Comets have won five regional titles under Mortimer, the most recent in 2009 when they lost in the quarterfinals to Melvindale Academy for Business and Technology, 65-61.

Hanover-Horton was 20-3 last season and lost to Hillsdale in a regional semifinals, 53-44.

Mortimer doesn’t have players the Division I schools recruit. His players work within his system and play for each other. There is no magical formula for winning with such consistency.

“We have hard-working kids,” Mortimer said. “This is an experienced group. We returned almost all of our players. We’ve had a lot of good groups come through here. This group is special. And we’ve had others that were special, too.

“We’ve built a program.”

 One person does not build a program. Mortimer said he’s received tremendous assistance from the coaches at the lower levels, in junior high, the freshmen level and junior varsity. On the varsity Gary Hull has been with Mortimer since the beginning. Hull has been more than a sounding board for Mortimer, he’s been a trusted friend.

“His son was in the eighth grade when we started,” Mortimer said. “He’s been a great friend. It’s nice to have that type of loyalty.”

The Comets are loaded with seniors. The lone junior in the top seven is Preston Laketa, a versatile 6-5 forward.

At point guard is the 5-9 Stefan Young. He runs the offense and is a coach on the floor. Young doesn’t look to score but has the ability to make the perimeter shot when left alone.

Spink is perhaps the team’s top shooter but Mortimer has others who can make the 3-pointer.

Teams can’t gear up to stop two or three players. Any one of the topo seven are capable of leading the Comets in scoring. Against Lumen Christi Laketa was the leading scorer with 16. Preston Reiff scored 13 points to lead Hanover-Horton on Friday.

Players like Lucas Crisanti, Colton Lowery and Bryce Walker are others who can make an impact by scoring, diving for loose balls and playing Mortimer’s man-to-man defense.

“We stress team basketball,” Mortimer said. “Our point is solid. We’ve got shooters. We’ve got bigs. If we focus we can be good. We have to be at our best against Hillsdale. They have bigs. They have shooters. We scrimmaged them before the season and they got us pretty good.

“If we’re not at our best our season will come to an end.”