MCBAIN — St. Francis rallied from a four-point deficit with six minutes left to play Tuesday to defeat host McBain 62-54 in the Class C regional semifinals. 

The Gladiators (22-2) made 12 of 15 free throws in the final minutes to clinch the hard-fought win and earn a berth in Thursday’s title game against Tawas.

The win for St. Francis reverses a loss suffered by the Gladiators to McBain in last year’s district semifinals in Traverse City.

“The girls played an incredible game,” said St. Francis coach Mike Knudsen. “We told them before the game this was a gut check tonight. We knew it would be a struggle here. We knew McBain would keep coming at us and we had to be prepared for that.”

The Glads led 45-39 late in the third quarter only to have McBain storm back behind relentless full-court pressure to score 10 straight points and gain a 49-45 advantage with 5:56 showing on the clock. A steal and subsequent layup from McBain junior Maggie Eisenga just before the buzzer ending the third quarter ignited the run and sophomore Michaela Koopman opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to help the Ramblers maintain their momentum.

The Glads didn’t get rattled. They rallied over the next three minutes of the seesaw contest to score eight unanswered points and take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Sophomore post Juliana Phillips, who scored seven of her nine points in the fourth quarter, hit an offensive rebound and a pair of free throws to help fuel the run.

“Give St. Francis credit,” McBain coach Todd Hamlet said. “We pulled ahead by four and they didn’t buckle. They kept their composure and came back on us.”

A driving layup from Sarah Carney completed the Glads’ 8-0 run and pushed their lead to 53-49 with 3:37 remaining.

McBain senior guard Meredith Hamlet, playing what would be the final game of her outstanding four-year varsity career, brought the Ramblers within two points twice in the next minute but that was as close as they would get.

The Glads moved the ball around effectively while holding onto the slim lead and taking time off the clock. They ultimately sealed the victory at the line, hitting 6 of 8 in the final 38 seconds to push the lead from two points to six points.

Twice McBain caused turnovers in the final minute, once by forcing a jump ball, and another time when sophomore Sammy VanHouten made a steal but each time the Glads were able to intercept passes and get the ball right back.

“We had different players step up at different times to make plays,” Knudsen said. “That’s what we’ve done all year and tonight was the same.”

Annie Lyman, Megan Knudsen and Phillips all hit clutch free throws at the end. Knudsen also made two critical steals in the final minutes and Carney and Lyman also came up with steals at key points late in the game.

Lyman paced the Glads’ balanced scoring ledger with 16 points, including a 3-pointer, and 5 of 6 free throws. She also finished with six steals. Knudsen canned 15 with three connections from beyond the arc and three steals while going 4 for 4 from the line. Carney tallied 11 and was also 5 of 6 at the line. Phillips was 5 of 6 from the line as well, all in the fourth quarter.

Hamlet, who set the all-time scoring record for McBain this season, buried 30 points in her finale and grabbed seven rebounds. Sophomore Shelby Whitt came off the bench to score 10 with four rebounds and three steals. Koopman scored five with eight boards.

Tawas (20-4) earned a 61-47 decision over Roscommon in the other semifinal. Tip-off for Thursday’s title game in McBain is 7 p.m.

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