By JAMES COOK firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — BUCKLEY — Gaylord St. Mary only scored 39 points in Thursday’s Class D regional final at Buckley.
And the Snowbirds didn’t care.
“I told the girls at halftime, ‘I don’t care if we win 30-15, we’re going to win a regional championship,’” St. Mary coach Dan Smith said.
The Snowbirds were able to contain Bear Lake’s formidable front line and post a low-scoring 39-23 victory to give the school its first back-to-back regional championships since the 2001 and 2002 seasons. St. Mary scored 60 in its regional semifinal win, and Bear Lake hit for 50.
Faced with 5-10 Hannah Harrington and 6-1 Emileigh Ferguson, the Snowbirds countered with shorter defenders in Mary Spyhalski and Sarah Long, but that didn’t seem to matter all that much.
Between those two stopping Ferguson and Harrington from taking control of the game inside and the St. Mary guards forcing 25 turnovers with pressure, the Snowbirds’ defense came up huge in the win.
“I couldn’t be more proud of those girls taking care of things on the perimeter,” Smith said. “And then Sarah’s job, taking away the easy lob to (Ferguson). We knew she was left-handed and she likes to finish left. That’s why we put Sarah on the baseline, to take that away, and we had Mary on the back side to help.”
St. Mary’s guards — Kari Borowiak, Jada Bebble and Christina Smith — also committed only six turnovers.
“We definitely wanted to pressure them,” said Borowiak, who had six points, six assists and seven steals. “That’s probably one of our biggest advantages against teams. We work hard the whole game, and when we get our defense going, that usually fuels our offense.”
When Bear Lake was able to force it in to Ferguson, the Snowbirds doubled down and were able to tie her up and force several jump balls.
“The game we watched Tuesday night, she had easy catches,” Smith said. “There was no pressure, so once she did catch, she could finish everything we wanted to. We knew we had to have a dynamite defense against her — and we did that.”
St. Mary (23-2) never trailed in the contest. Bear Lake pulled within 11-9 on a Kelly Babcock second-quarter layup, but a Smith baseline 3-pointer gave the Snowbirds a 14-9 advantage and the Lakers wouldn’t get any closer than six in the second half.
“They did a good job of doubling down on Emmy and Hannah,” Lakers coach Scott Brown said. “What do you say? We fought hard, but it didn’t work out in our favor.”
Harrington — who grabbed the game’s first three rebounds — led Bear Lake with nine points, and Ferguson had eight.
“Our big girls down low really shut them down, so that’s good,” Borowiak said. “We wanted to get them out of the middle so we could penetrate.”
The Snowbirds move on to quarterfinals Tuesday at Reed City against Climax-Scotts, which beat Fulton 41-28.
“Winning a regional is something special,” Smith said. “They do not just hand out regional championships. Districts are something we’ve been accustomed to winning at St. Mary, but you have to really compete to win a regional championship. And we had to earn it. Bear Lake has a really nice team and they’ve got a really bright future for sure with those two big girls. I wouldn’t be surprised if maybe sometime down the road we get to play them again.”
Spyhalski led the Snowbirds with 14 points and five rebounds. Smith added eight points, five assists and four steals, Long had six points and five boards and Bebble contributed four steals.
The Lakers (18-6) lose only one starter — guard Briann Bowling — and have both junior post players back, so their future is strong. Brown said as far as he knows, this is the first time Bear Lake’s girls have been in the regional finals. Their last district crown was in 1994.
“It’s been a long while since the Bear Lake girls have been to this point,” Brown said. “We’re trying to build the program, and we’re working for next year, too.”