BOYNE CITY — Glen Lake did what no other team in the state could do — twice.
The Lakers beat St. Francis 49-39 Friday for the Class C district title in Bonye City. It was the second time Glen Lake beat the Gladiators this year, the only two losses of the season for last year’s state runner-up.
“This group of seniors have been together for a long time and they work really hard,” Glen Lake coach Todd Hazelton said. “We lost to them by 40 last year in the district, and after that game I challenged them. And you know what? They lived up to the challenge and they did a great job tonight.”
Friday’s win was the first district title for Glen Lake since 2002. The Lakers (21-2) will play Lincoln Alcona on Monday at Traverse City West in the regional semifinal.
”It’s the biggest win of my life,” said Mike O’Brien, a four-year starter for the Lakers. “Having never played in a district championship game in basketball, we came to play tonight. We played great defense. They were tough, but we really, really wanted this one. We’ve been working hard for it for a long time, so it feels good that it finally paid off.”
The loss ended St. Francis’ season at 20-2.
”This was one of the most fun teams I’ve coached from a work ethic standpoint,” Gladiators coach Keith Haske said. “I think two practices all year I left thinking we didn’t go at it very hard. That’s the thing I’ll take away from these guys, the incredible spirit and energy they brought to practice every night. And, of course, the joy they brought to me, my family and St. Francis. They’re fun to watch. They met those expectations and beyond.”
The Gladiators two losses were virtually identical. Glen Lake beat them 50-40 a little over a week ago.
”It was two teams that absolutely put it all on the floor,” Haske said. “When it gets that way, it gets a little sloppy. They made the big plays down the stretch and we didn’t. Tremendous amount of credit to them and their kids. Funny two games that were exactly the same. They are better than us.”
The score was tied six times in Friday’s game, including as late as 30-30 in the third quarter. However, Glen Lake closed the quarter on a 6-3 run for a 36-33 advantage it never surrendered.
In the fourth quarter, St. Francis struggled to score and ended with just six points in the final stanza. Each time the Gladiators scored in the fourth quarter, Carter Lee answered immediately with a transition basket to keep momentum from shifting.
”I struggled a little bit in the first quarter and I knew I needed to step up,” Lee said. “(Damon) Sheehy and (Kody) Kleinrichert, when they get the ball and score, that gives them momentum. Mike had some good outlook passes to me, so it worked out well.”
Haske said his team struggled shooting, but also gave credit to Glen Lake for its defense.
”A lot of it was what they were doing to push us off our game,” he said. “I’m obviously super disappointed, but I’m proud of our kids. Great effort, great season. I wish Glen Lake the best of luck. Hopefully, they’ll go win the state championship.”
”We had 16 turnovers in the first half, but even when we turned it over they weren’t getting buckets off of it,” Hazelton said. “Our half-court defense was phenomenal. They love to go up and down, but we prevented that from happening. That made a difference.”
Mike O’Brien ended with 14 points while Lee had 12 points and six rebounds. Logan LaCross had a big night with five points and 11 rebounds, including six boards in the fourth quarter.
”That’s written on our board, one shot,” Hazelton said. “Logan was phenomenal. He’s such a good athlete. Tonight, he boxed out well and his rebounds were above the rim tonight. He was tough.”
Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi led St. Francis with 16 points while Kody Kleinrichert and Noah Phillips each had six points.