BY DENNIS CHASE
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — One to go.
St. Francis moved one win closer to at least a share of the Lake Michigan Conference girls basketball title Monday night with a 54-36 win over Elk Rapids.
The Gladiators improved to 12-1 in the league heading into Friday's regular-season finale at Charlevoix. Kalkaska also has one league loss.
St. Francis hosts a Class C district next week, but coach Mike Knudsen is not looking that far ahead — yet.
"We've got to take care of what's at hand first," he said. "What's at hand now is Charlevoix. We need to make sure we take care of business there so that we can end up with a share of the conference title."
Liza Erickson scored 23 points to power the Gladiators on Monday. She had 12 in the first half, 11 in the second.
"Liza is a heck of a player," Elk Rapids coach Dan Marquardt said. "She had 22 the first time we played. She does it all. She's hard to guard. We'll try to figure something out for the next time because hopefully we'll meet in the (district) finals."
St. Francis (17-2) led 19-9 after the first quarter and 32-23 at half. The Gladiators opened the third quarter with a 7-0 run to push their lead to 16. The Elks, though, retaliated with a 9-0 run in the final 1:43 of the quarter to make 39-32.
St. Francis matched that with a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter, putting the game out of reach.
"We started out really well, got a big lead, but they cut into it," Knudsen said. "They played us tough."
Paige Granger paced the Elks (10-8, 7-6) with 16 points. She had 14 in the first half. Granger was perfect at the foul line, connecting on all 12 of her attempts.
"We gave them a lot of second-chance points," Marquardt said. "We missed some rebounding opportunities. They're a good team. I thought there were some good moments for us. I thought we competed with them for awhile. It's things you can't let happen — rebounding, turning the ball over — where we struggled. We'll go back to work (today) and try to correct them."
St. Francis celebrated Senior Night in their last regular-season home game. The Gladiators have five seniors on the squad.
"This is one of the last times I'll be playing with my best friends," Erickson said. "These are memories for all of us. We want to make the best of it."
Erickson, who will attend Arizona State in the fall, has had a strong second half to the season.
"Liza has had a great end to the year," Knudsen said. "She's playing extremely well. All of our seniors are playing well together. Without their unselfishness and leadership, we wouldn't be where we are right now."
After Friday's game at Charlevoix, St. Francis will come back to face East Jordan in Monday's district. The Gladiators were upset by Manton in the district opener last February.
"We don't like to talk about that game," Erickson said. "But we definitely have it in the back of our heads."
"It's been several years since we've won a district," Knudsen said. "We're hoping to accomplish that this year. For whatever reasons, we haven't performed well in the districts lately and hopefully that's not the case this year.
"I'm excited. The team is playing well right now and if they keep it up it could be an exciting time for us."
"In past years our heads haven't been in it," she said. "This year we've had meetings. We've talked about it. We want to go far. I believe our hearts are in it this year."
Elk Rapids won the JV game 48-30 to go to 15-2. Mikaela Rogers and Kayla McManus scored 11 points apiece for the Elks. Suzanne Britten and Lauren McDonnell netted seven for St. Francis.