MACOMB TOWNSHIP — The Macomb Dakota boys basketball team won the program’s sixth Michigan High School Athletic Association district title this season, ending a four-year drought.
That means Cougars veterans such as seniors D.J. Lazarus and Brian Orr were able to make deep playoff runs for the first time in their careers. Dakota coach Paul Tocco, who guided the team to a 17-6 record, said Lazarus and Orr were catalysts in the team’s success and that he hopes the success is sustainable.
“(Orr and Lazarus) will go down in the record books for holding a lot of Dakota records as far as free throws made, field goals made, 3-pointers made,” Tocco said after a season-ending loss to Utica Eisenhower March 10 at Dakota. “They’re two great leaders, and I think they took our program to another level. I’m hoping to take what they gave us and run with it, hopefully, next year and the year after that.”
Dakota’s loss to Eisenhower came in a 2014 MHSAA Class A regional semifinal. Eisenhower outlasted the Cougars 65-64 in overtime in what was the third meeting between the Macomb Area Conference Red Division foes. Eisenhower won the season series 2-1. Each matchup was decided by six points or fewer.
“We wanted that (regional title), especially at home, but I give Eisenhower a lot of credit,” Tocco said. “They came out and shot the lights out against us. They hit a lot of 3s, and they hadn’t done that against us this year. That was the difference — they shot the ball really well.”
The Cougars averaged 60.7 points per game. That’s the highest per-game average for Dakota since it put up 66.4 points per night on its way to 21 wins in the 2005-06 season. The team will lose Orr, Lazarus and senior Tyler Piekarski to graduation, but have 12 players eligible to return next season, including sophomore guard Chris Marshal, who netted 16 points in the regional semifinal. The group finished one game behind Romeo High in the race for the MAC Red title.
“We did win a district title, which is great, but it’s not what we ultimately wanted,” Tocco said. “You can’t fault their effort and how hard they played. I’m proud of the effort. We were down 15 points at one point (in the regional semifinal), and we could’ve quit, and we didn’t. We made it a game and pushed it to overtime.
“Obviously, I’m very disappointed (with the outcome), but I’m proud of the way the kids reacted when they were down. I couldn’t ask for more effort.”