BY MIKE DUNN
Special to the Record-Eagle
BAIN — McThe theme for the seesaw non-league boys' hardwood clash between host McBain and Traverse City St. Francis was evident early on Saturday. The victorious Gladiators stormed to a 25-12 first-quarter lead only to have McBain battle back and narrow the gap to single digits early in the second quarter.
The Glads pushed back to take an 18-point lead late in the second quarter, only to have the Ramblers slice the lead to 12 by halftime. The Glads led by 19 points midway through the third quarter and 19 points again early in the fourth quarter. Each time, McBain somehow scrapped and clawed back into contention.
Before it was over, the gritty Ramblers would cut the deficit to just six points with the chance to trim even more off the lead in the final 20 seconds.
When the final buzzer mercifully sounded, though, St. Francis was still on top. The intense 68-62 victory enabled the Glads (7-0) to remain unbeaten. McBain, which has played a difficult early schedule, slipped to 3-3.
St. Francis coach Keith Haske, who has gone head-to-head with McBain coach Bruce Koopman in several thrilling Class C regional playoffs when Haske was coaching at Charlevoix, wasn't a bit surprised the Ramblers rallied the way they did.
"They're a good program with good kids and a great coach," Haske said. "They played hard and battled to make it close at the end. That's what you expect from McBain. We knew their kids wouldn't quit."
Haske said he was very pleased with his team's performance except for the last four minutes.
"I think we got a little fatigued," he said. "The pace of the game took a toll on both sides. I'm not a big believer in slowing things down in those situations so we kept going with the full-court pressure. We missed too many free throws and didn't finish as strong as we should have but give McBain credit. They kept at it."
St. Francis led 58-41 after three quarters and promptly pushed the lead to 60-41 at the outset of the fourth quarter when senior guard Damon Sheehy, who turned in a sizzling effort at both ends, drove to the hole and kissed one off the glass.
McBain big man Hunter Powell countered with a 3-pointer with 7:37 remaining, however, and that sparked a 13-4 run that brought the Ramblers within 64-54 midway through the quarter. Powell went 4-for-4 from the line in the run and scored nine of his game-high 25 points.
The Glads had opportunities to create more separation from the charity stripe over the next two minutes but made just 2-of-5 from the line, enabling the Ramblers to trim the lead to 66-57 with 2:07 to go when senior Jared Larr drained a triple.
A driving lay-up from McBain guard Grant Gugle made it 66-59 with 1:29 to go and then the Glads failed twice to add to the lead, missing the front end of one-and-one chances. The Glads were just 6-of-11 from the line in the second half and 9-of-17 for the game.
A free throw by Gugle made the score 66-60 with 1:00 showing on the clock. The surging Ramblers had the chance to cut into the lead even more as the game clock wound under 25 seconds but could not convert after getting three straight offensive rebounds.
Sheehy was fouled after finally gaining possession of the ball with 17 seconds left and he hit twice to make it 68-60.
A driving bucket by Gugle in the closing seconds made the final score 68-62.
"We were down 19 at the start of the fourth quarter and I was already out of timeouts," said McBain coach Bruce Koopman. "The kids kept chipping away and chipping away and made a game of it. We talked during the break about everybody knowing their role and about playing hard for 32 minutes. We did that tonight against a very good opponent.
"I played nine guys tonight and they all contributed," he added.
Koopman said he enjoyed renewing the coaching rivalry with Haske.
"He's definitely one of the best coaches in the state," Koopman said. "I rank him up there with coach (Jeff) McDonald (of Cadillac). They're two of the best around anywhere. Any time you get to go head-to-head with coach Haske, it's a great challenge."
Kody Kleinrichert rang up 20 points to join Sheehy in double digits for the Glads. He also grabbed seven boards. Connor Archer tallied eight and Austin Currie hit for seven. Sheehy, who exhibited excellent floor vision in the fast, furious contest, finished with 12 assists and also recorded four steals.
Larr, who played a similar role in fueling the up-tempo attack with the Ramblers, landed 12 points to join Powell in double figures. Gugle struck for eight and Trevor Lutke scored five. Junior Kyle Heuker came off the bench and provided quality depth down low, scoring four on put-backs.
McBain won the JV game 52-44. Patrick Lewis launched 14 points for the Glads and Matt Seybert hit for 11. Ethan Eisenga scored 12 to lead the Ramblers.
St. Francis has a huge Lake Michigan Conference clash ahead on Tuesday at unbeaten Grayling. McBain plays Thursday at the court of unbeaten Lake City.
St. Francis won the freshman game 53-32 as Joe Coates scored 14 points, Joe Trucco 10 and Jay Klingelsmith added solid defense.