EscanabaDailyPress/Austin Hemmingson
Carney-Nadeau’s Sandra Boulton drives around North Central’s Alex Neville (2) during Monday’s Division 4 district opener in Carney.
EscanabaDailyPress/Austin Hemmingson

Carney-Nadeau’s Sandra Boulton drives around North Central’s Alex Neville (2) during Monday’s Division 4 district opener in Carney.

Escanaba Daily Press

CARNEY — Survive and advance — that’s about all you can do in March.

On a crazy night of upsets, the Carney-Nadeau girls breathed a sigh of relief when Hailey Pavlat’s last-second 3-pointer rimmed out at the buzzer, giving the Wolves a 32-30 home victory over their rivals from North Central in a Division 4 district basketball tournament opener.

In a game that was a defensive struggle from start to finish, every basket proved to be huge. Each team had its opportunities to cash in, but the Wolves (17-4) just made one more play in their third victory over the Jets (11-10) this season.

“It feels great,” C-N coach Ken Linder said. “It was a tough game. They were really physical and they did a great job on the defensive end. They deserve a lot of credit.

“They really got after us but we play defense, too. We got after them. That’s where we won the game and that’s what I told the girls after the game. We struggled offensively, but we won that game with defense.”

After trailing the entire game, the Jets took their first lead on at 19-18 on a 3-pointer from the right wing by Bree Arsenault with 2:01 left to play in the third quarter.

The Wolves regained their lead on a 3-point play by 6-foot-2 sophomore center Tessa Wagner just under a minute into their fourth, then extended it to 26-20 midway through the quarter on another hard-earned bucket by Wagner.

“We made a few mistakes on Tessa,” Jets coach Lee Vincent said. “When she turns to the right, she’s going to make the shot.”

The Jets scored the next four points and had an opportunity to tie the game at 26 when Chloe Webber’s layup just fell off the rim. The Wolves then extended their lead to 30-26 before Arsenault drilled a clutch triple from the top of the key with 45 seconds left.

After the Wolves had broken the Jets’ press, they called timeout and were inbounding the ball from the sideline. Linder drew up a beautifully designed play in which Wagner dove to the basket and scored to give C-N a 32-29 advantage with 30 seconds to play.

“Tessa really made some nice plays for us down the stretch, and Giselle (Laurila) is our quarterback,” Linder said. “She got it in there - that was big. She handled the pressure really well against the press. Everybody did a really good job.”

Alex Neville cut the Jets’ deficit to 32-30 with a free throw with 23 seconds left, and they proceeded to foul Sandra Boulton on the next possession. Boulton missed both free throws, giving the Jets one last chance with 12 ticks remaining.

Out of a timeout, Pavlat ended up with the ball on the wing. Vincent noted the play was drawn up for Arsenault to catch it at the top, but when Arsenault wasn’t open, Pavlat dribbled to her left and had to throw up a long 3-pointer before time expired from at least two feet behind the arc. The shot hit the backboard and rimmed out, sending the Wolves to the district semis.

“I was hoping it was going to fall,” Vincent said. “It looked good when it took off.”

Wagner led all scorers with 18 points, coming up with the big buckets whenever the Wolves needed them.

“It feels amazing,” she said. “It was the closest game we’ve had against them.”

Arsenault and Neville led the way with 12 points each for the Jets, who shot 10 for 35 from the field and committed 12 turnovers.

“I thought we played really great defense,” Vincent said. “We did our best. We made some bad mistakes at times, but other than that (I thought we played pretty well). I’m proud of the girls. They were awesome.”

Arsenault, Neville and Pavlat each played their final game in a Jets’ uniform. Then, after the game, Vincent announced he will be stepping down.

“It’s a great bunch of kids, I had a lot of fun with them,” Vincent said. “I’m proud of these girls. I know it’s my last year, so I’m going to miss them all. They were great kids to coach and be around. I will be there watching them (next year).”

The Wolves will now take on another familiar opponent in the semis Wednesday when they host Stephenson at 6 p.m. The teams split during the regular season, with each winning on its home court.

“It will be another tough one,” Linder said. “Another neighbor, another rival ... I’m expecting another tough game.”

NORTH CENTRAL (30) — B. Arsenault 12, Neville 12, Pavlat 4, Hundsrucker 4. FTs: 8-13.

CARNEY-NADEAU (32) — Wagner 18, Boulton 6, Luarila 5, Charlier 2, Ernest 1. FTs: 8-19.

Halftime score: Carney-Nadeau 14, North Central 11