TRAVERSE CITY — When it came down to crunch time on Wednesday night, Traverse City St. Francis did not respond like a young and inexperienced team.
A late fourth-quarter push by Bear Lake trimmed a double-digit St. Francis lead down to five points, but the Gladiators didn't allow a point over the last four minutes and claimed a 38-29 victory in the championship game of the Katie Heintz "Keep Believin" Tip Off Tournament at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School. (Below, watch post-game interviews with Traverse City St. Francis' coach Mike Knudsen and Juliana Phillips.)
"Winning the Katie Heintz tournament is one of our team goals," said St. Francis coach Mike Knudsen. "We talk with the girls if we can believe in ourselves the way Katie believed, believe in our faith, believe in our teammates, then it's going to be a great year. It's always nice to start out the year with the Katie Heintz tournament and especially nice to be able to win it."
Freshman Juliana Phillips and sophomore Anne Lyman shared high scorer honors for the Gladiators (2-0), each with 11 points. Phillips, who was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament, had the key play of the night after Bear Lake made it a 34-29 game — the closest the contest had been since the first quarter — when she got a steal and drove all the way in for a layup that halted the Lakers' run.
"I always expect a lot from myself and I have high standards for myself, but I'm just so happy for my team and coming out with this win, especially for the Heintz family. It means a lot to everyone," said Phillips.
Phillips' defensive play that led to instant offense came at a critical time for the Gladiators, who held a double-figure lead for most of the night, but saw that evaporate after they struggled to score and the Lakers got consecutive buckets by Emileigh Ferguson, McKaya Groenwald — who drilled a three — and Katelynn Millard.
"We did not shoot the ball very well," said Knudsen. "We were getting good shots in the second half. They just weren't falling. I did get a little nervous, but the girls were able to pull it back out to a double-digit lead, almost. We were able to hang on."
Guard Lydia Arthur, the only senior on the St. Francis roster, was the other Gladiator named to the all-tournament team.
Ferguson led Bear Lake with 11 points and was also named to the all-tournament team, along with teammate Hannah Harrington. The other players named to the team were Glen Lake's Jordan Peplinski and Harbor Springs' Morgan Reeves.
Bear Lake dug itself a hole right from the start as the Lakers were scoreless for the first three minutes of the game and trailed immediately 7-0. St. Francis stretched the difference to double figures in the second quarter and led 25-13 at the half.
Knudsen was happy with the way his young players performed, including freshman Sarah Carney, who had the task of going against Bear Lake's tough inside game.
"Juliana played well. Sarah played well. I was proud of the whole team," said Knudsen. "Everybody contributes and I'm really looking forward to the rest of the year."
So is Phillips, who thinks the Gladiators can be successful with their young squad.
"Every team is always hopeful that they're going to go far," she said. "I'm also hopeful that we will too, despite our youth. I think we really show that sometimes, but we really come out and show what we can bring."
Glen Lake held on for a 41-32 win over Harbor Springs in the consolation game. Peplinski led the Lakers with 17 points. Perry Bower had 11 points for the Rams.
Glen Lake (1-1) used a fast start to take a 10-point lead, but Harbor came storming back right before the half and got the margin within three, 19-16. The Rams tied the game 23-23 in the third and kept threatening even after Glen Lake bumped its lead back up to eight points late in the fourth.
"They rattled us a little while," said Glen Lake coach Jason Bradford. "I think we had a 10-point lead, then they threw the press on. The turnovers, they hurt because we didn't come down and even get a shot off. Harbor Springs is a good, competitive team so we're happy with the win."