BUCKLEY — Bellaire’s weakness turned into a strength Tuesday evening.
Bellaire was as clutch as could be from the free-throw line in a 43-40 Class D regional semifinal victory over Arenac Eastern in a matchup of teams ranked in the top 12.
No. 10 Bellaire was 8 for 8 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter and made its last 12 from the line. Trailing by three with 1:14 to go, No. 12 Arenac missed three at the stripe.
“That has been our Achilles heal quite a bit throughout the season,” fourth-year Bellaire coach Brad Fischer said. “The girls stepped up and made some big free throws when we needed them the most.”
Madalyn Balon hit 7 of 8 free throws for the game, including all six she took in the second half.
“That’s her,” Fischer said. “She’s money. She’s been our most consistent one, other than Renee (Lalone). You’ve got to have those free throws, come tournament time.”
In a game pitting two Eagle-mascotted teams, Leighten Koepke drilled 3-pointers from both wings in a crucial third quarter that saw the Ski Valley Conference champs erase an Arenac five-point halftime advantage and turn it into Bellaire’s first lead since the game’s first minute.
“They were just there, so we took them and made them,” said Koepke, who ended up with 18 points, six rebounds and three steals.
“That’s just Leighten Koepke stepping up like she always does,” Fischer said. “She has obviously the ability and talent. But give them credit; they played some great defense. We haven’t seen that type of defense all year long, man to man. And we battled through it. I think we wore them down a little bit and stuck with it. I said, ‘Girls, it’s regionals; it should be tough. Just keep playing and good things will happen.’”