BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — The St. Francis basketball team spent part of the pre-season following the volleyball team's long tournament run, which culminated in the Class C state finals 10 days ago.
Now, it's back to basketball.
Liza Erickson scored 13 points and Kenzie Feeney and Bridget Bussell 10 apiece Monday night as the Gladiators defeated Lake Leelanau St. Mary 56-14 in the opening round of the Katie Heintz Tip-Off Tournament.
St. Francis will play Glen Lake in the championship game, a rematch from last season when the Gladiators posted a 69-49 win. The Lakers advanced Monday with a 64-52 win over Bear Lake behind Scotlyn Brengman's 27 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds, seven steals and two blocks.
"We played them in the summer," Erickson said of the Lakers. "They were pretty good then, and they look good now. I'm excited."
Bussell was one of two Gladiators on the volleyball team — one that drew the complete support of coach Mike Knudsen's basketball squad.
"With the volleyball team going as far as it did, we didn't get a whole lot of practice time in as a team," Knudsen said. "We would skip practice to go support them at their games. It was a good school experience for everybody."
"We're all good friends," Erickson added. "It meant a lot to the school, and to us, that they went that far. We thought going to support them was more important than practicing."
The Gladiators took advantage of a young Eagles team to open a 37-7 lead at half.
"It was a good chance for the girls to get the bugs out," Knudsen said. "I was pleased with our ball passing, shooting and defense. Defensively, I thought we really stepped it up and did a nice job helping each other out."
Erickson scored eight of her points during a 12-0 run in the first quarter.
"They're very athletic, very committed young ladies," St. Mary coach Paula Korson said of the Gladiators. "They're always a tough team to play. Always."
It didn't help the Eagles cause that they were breaking in a new and young playing group.
"We have four sophomores, and only two seniors," Korson said. "One of our seniors was sick all week so she didn't play much tonight.
"We have a very small senior class in general at school. So that trickles on down. I told the girls afterwards, 'This is only game one. We have 20 to play. I look forward to the progress we'll make throughout the season."
Marta Herman and Rachael Thon led St. Mary with five points apiece.
Glen Lake, meanwhile, opened a 38-22 lead at half, then withstood a late Bear Lake rally. Bear Lake closed to within six in the fourth quarter, this after Glen Lake center Jordan Peplinski fouled out.
"That hurt us," Brengman said of Peplinski's absence. "She's tough inside — and she knows when to pass it out (on the offensive end). We were able to play through it, though."
With Peplinski out, Lakers coach Jason Bradford was forced to play Brengman more inside.
The senior scored 11 of her points in the first quarter for the Lakers, who looked to push the ball in transition. She had 16 at half.
"She had a big, big night," Bradford said. "She's so good off the dribble. She can create her own plays."
Katie Stowe finished with 11 points and Peplinski 10 for the Glen Lake. Peplinski exited in the third quarter.
"You should know by the first half how they're (officials) going to call the game," Bradford said. "We needed to adjust."
Bradford used most of his timeouts in the fourth quarter as Bear Lake battled back.
"We were rushing a few shots," he said. "We were settling for outside shots instead of attacking the hole. Once we started working it in, getting it down low, dishing it off, we started scoring again."
Emileigh Ferguson led Bear Lake with 18.
Glen Lake and St. Francis will meet in the JV title game as well. The Lakers edged Bear Lake 44-42 in overtime as McKenna Turrill scored 12 points and Breanna Flores and Alex LaCross 10 apiece. McKenna Fink netted 17 and Alyson Fink 11 for Bear Lake.
St. Francis claimed a 49-31 win over St. Mary as Lauren McDonnell tossed in 14 points. Abbie Thon scored 15 and Rachael Schaub 10 for St. Mary.
The consolation and championship games will be held Wednesday. Bear Lake will play St. Mary in the JV game at 3, followed by the varsity at 4:30. The Glen Lake and St. Francis JV game will start at 6 with the varsity teams to face off at 7:30.