McBAIN — McBain's Meredith Hamlet scored a game-high 22 points, but Frankfort was able to take her out of the game much of the second half and pulled away for a 71-57 victory in an early-season meeting between two of the best small-school teams in northwest Michigan.
Shayla Soto had 17 points, but her defense was just as big. Soto was on Hamlet like glue, holding a Class C all-state selection without a single point in the game's final 12:32 in girls basketball action Friday at McBain.
A Hamlet 3-pointer with 4:32 to go pulled the Ramblers within four at 36-32, but that was her final score of the evening. Not coincidentally, Frankfort started to pull away from there, leading by as many as 21
"I knew I would have her," Soto said. "I was told once the ball got away from her to not let her get it back. That's what I tried to do — and I think I did a pretty good job."
Both teams are pretty decent bets to be in the top 10 in their respective classes when the first state polls are released.
"This is one of our biggest games all year," said Frankfort's Mackenna Kelly, who had 19 points. "And we treated it like that."
After much of the first half was fairly low-scoring, it ended with a flurry. Kelly scored Frankfort's final seven points in the last 1:22 and Hamlet buried two 3-pointers in final 24 ticks as the Panthers led 28-23 going into intermission.
The second half started the same way, with Hamlet bombing away from the outside and Soto drilling a 3-pointer of her own.
Then Soto's defense really impacted the game.
"She's one of those kids that's been around forever," Frankfort coach Tim Reznich said. "She started out as a manager. It's so great seeing her develop into the player she's becoming. She's a lock-down defender. You're not going to stop Hamlet; she's incredible."
Soto blanketed Hamlet, denying the Ramblers star the ball for much of the second half.
McBain looks like a very good Class C team. Frankfort appears to be an even better Class D squad. Both teams were state quarterfinalists a year ago.
"I wasn't expecting to score 71," Reznich said.
By the end of the third quarter, Frankfort had extended its lead to 53-39, going on an 11-4 run to end the period, emphasized by a Kelly triple at the buzzer.
"Our legs kick in the second half," Kelly said. "We work for that all year. We don't get as tired, so that's why we're really strong in the second half."
McBain is a fairly young team, with only two seniors. Sophomores Michaela Koopman and Shelby Whitt and freshman Charity Ingleright were its top scorers outside of Hamlet.
"We've got some pretty athletic kids who have to get to the ball and get to the basket," McBain coach Todd Hamlet said. "It's a one-on-one game if they're going to spread the floor and deny Meredith the ball. Our young kids have just got to realize it's their time."
The Ramblers start the season with a brutal schedule, playing several much bigger teams in Big Rapids and Cadillac, sandwiched around Frankfort.
"That's why we schedule these kind of games," Todd Hamlet said. "They need to see that kind of pressure. They need to see that kind of upper-echelon team. With St. Ignace going the other way, that's a possible Final Four team, easily."
Frankfort also was impressive without standout sophomore Cecilia Schmitt, who had 11 points in limited minutes due to foul trouble. She fouled out with over four minutes to play, but the Panthers were up 16 by that point.