MANCELONA — The Charlevoix Rayders are not used to winning games by a small margin.
Their average margin of victory in their 19 wins this year is 21.9 points.
Their margin of victory in the Division 3 regional semifinal — one point.
The Rayders (19-2) had to implement part of their game that they have only practiced on Monday night when they defeated Elk Rapids 48-47 in the Division 3 regional semifinal at Mancelona.
"That was really our first super tight game like that," Charlevoix junior Elise Stuck said. "I think our composure over the season and being able to close out games helped. We have practiced that situation and gone over it but it was nice to see us be able to execute it in an actual game."
Charlevoix was forced to execute again and again as the Elks (17-6) hung closely the entire game and never let the Rayders lead by more than seven points.
Stuck played her usual role for the Rayders and was the offensive catalyst throughout the night. She started her evening by rattling off seven straight points, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, to end the first period and give Charlevoix a 12-5 lead.
The Elks second quarter was highlighted by four 3-pointers and broke off an 11-5 run to cut the deficit to 25-21 at the half. A couple of 3-pointers by freshman Taylor Petrosky kept the Rayders out front as the Elks kept hitting from downtown.
Stuck led the Rayders with 23 points but the play from underclassmen like Petrosky hardly went unnoticed.
"I feel like our girls are stepping up and have the mindset that nobody is going to beat us," Charlevoix head coach Liz Grunch said of the crucial plays. "They do what they need to do to get the job done."
The Rayders jumped out to their largest lead just after the halftime break when Stuck nailed a layup on the first possession of the quarter.
The Elks came storming back, featuring their defense on Stuck in the third to take their first lead of the game.
"In the whole second half she (Stuck) had to work so hard," Elks head coach Mike Brown said. "She missed a ton of shots down low and we were getting rebounds and that allowed us to stay in the game."
The Elks ended the third on an 8-0 run, book-ended by 3-pointers by Drew Antcliff and Juni Parrish, and took a 38-37 lead into the final quarter.
They would stretch the lead to four points before Petrosky nailed five straight points with three minutes left.
A 3-pointer from Becca Marlof would give the Elks their final lead of the night at 45-44 before Stuck nailed a layup and a couple of free throws to ice the game.
The game was very physical in the second half and Stuck recognized that the Elks were keying on her but the junior wouldn't let that get into her head.
"It can be frustrating and when I was younger that would've made me super mad and I would have missed those free throws," Stuck said. "But coming from experience and playing with these girls everyday, we know what to do in that situation. I picture those free throws like I was shooting by myself in the gym like I have hundreds of time before."
The Elks had the ball with 12 seconds remaining after Stuck made her shots but a early 3-point attempt that missed was corralled under the net and put back — cutting the lead down to one as time expired.
The Elks were led in scoring by Antcliff and Olivia Travis, who each totaled 11 points. Kendall Brown and Parrish each netted seven for the Elks.
Petrosky finished with 11 points and Abby Cunningham and Addie Nagel each had five.
"You try to go back in your mind and think about what you can change or what could be different," Brown said. "But you couldn't ask for more than a great group of seniors who laid it on the line. All year long they set a good foundation for the program."
The Elks were back on the regional stage for the first time in more than five years.
Charlevoix will now face off with Ishpeming Westwood (23-1) in the regional final on Wednesday.