TRAVERSE CITY — If district championships could be won on paper, McBain girls basketball coach Todd Hamlet would’ve been happy to accept the trophy on Wednesday at St. Francis High School and shift focus to next week’s regional.
But despite a convincing 57-42 semifinal win over Traverse City St. Francis — a battle between the teams with the two best records in the six-team district tournament — Hamlet realizes there’s still more work to do before any hardware is hoisted.
“There’s still one more game left,” said Hamlet. “If I could just put it on paper and take it I would, but I think Glen Lake (Friday’s opponent) is going to have something to say about that. I do believe these are the two best teams in the district, but you’ve got to play Friday.”
Junior guard Meredith Hamlet paced McBain’s effort against St. Francis, leading all scorers with 19 points and adding seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. Eleven of her points came in a decisive second quarter where the Ramblers (18-2) outscored the Gladiators 21-8 to build a 36-22 halftime lead. St. Francis never got closer than 12 in the second half.
“In the second quarter we tried to push the ball because that’s our game,” said Meredith Hamlet. “We just wanted to stick to our game. It was definitely a team effort and we knew coming into this game it was going to have to be a team effort if we wanted to win.”
Kara Hughston and Asia Lagrow each added nine points for McBain. Michaela Koopman and Katelyn Loeks each grabbed six boards. Anne Lyman led St. Francis (18-3) with 14 points. The Gladiators’ freshmen frontcourt duo of Juliana Phillips and Sarah Carney added 12 and nine points, respectively.
The Ramblers’ defense keyed the second-quarter run with four quick turnovers that led to baskets during a 10-2 spurt.
“I thought Meredith did a nice job being patient and finding the gaps and getting shots off,” said Todd Hamlet. “But it took four other girls to get her open.
“(St. Francis) has got the two tall kids in the middle and we knew if they got off on us tonight we’d be in trouble, so we had to really play hard defensively. I think that’s what won it for us.”
St. Francis, which went undefeated in the Lake Michigan Conference, came into the contest riding an 11-game winning streak.
“St. Francis is a great team and you know what, it’s not only the team you’re playing here, it’s the tradition,” said Todd Hamlet. “It’s a great place to get a win against a great team and a great coach. Somebody had to lose tonight, but I have a lot of respect for them.”
Adversity struck the Gladiators just minutes into the game when junior guard Megan Knudsen was injured and never returned. St. Francis wasn’t affected by that initially as the two teams played a back-and-forth first quarter where the difference was never more than two points. McBain led 15-14 after the first period. As McBain got its defense going, Knudsen’s absence was more pronounced.
“That kind of put us in a situation where we had to do things we weren’t used to,” said St. Francis coach Mike Knudsen. “It was hard to recover from that. They turned the heat up on us and they didn’t allow us to run the things we normally do. McBain played a great game. They’re solid. They just outplayed us tonight.
“I told the girls ‘keep your heads high. You’ve had a season to be proud of.’ We accomplished a lot of our goals — going undefeated at home during the regular season, winning the Katie Heintz tournament, winning the conference. We were hoping to win a district, but it just didn’t work out.”