By Justin Haggerty

MUSKEGON – After some relatively lean years, the Ludington boys basketball program is back on top.

The Orioles clinched a share of the Lakes 8 Conference championship Friday night with an easy 57-17 road victory over Muskegon Catholic Central.

Ludington finished the conference season with an 9-1 record. It will share the title with Muskegon Heights after splitting two games with the Tigers this season.

Sam LaDuke squares up against MCC guard Andre’ Johnson. Photo/Jason Goorman

“Ludington’s always had a great basketball tradition, but there’s been a bit of a lull,” said Ludington Coach Thad Shank. “We haven’t won a conference title since 2010, so these kids are very excited about it.”

With a 17-1 overall record, the entire Ludington community is rallying behind the team, and the fan base is traveling well.

“We’ve had great community support, there were probably more Ludington people than Muskegon Catholic fans here tonight,” Shank said. “The last four or five home games have been packed to the rafters.

“When kids can play in front of that kind of atmosphere, that’s special for them, and they’re really thankful to have the support that we have.”

The Orioles came out swinging Friday night, outscoring the Crusaders 17-3 in the first quarter with five different players registering points.

Nine Orioles scored by the end of the game, displaying the kind of depth that every team needs to make a long run in the state tournament.

The leading scorers were Calvin Hackert and Sam LaDuke, who each registered 16 points.

The Orioles have the cohesiveness and selflessness to continue to improve as they head into districts in a little over a week, according to LaDuke.

“We have great locker room chemistry, we love each other a lot,” the senior said. “We’re really close on the court and outside of the gym. We’re hanging out outside of school and doing activities together on the weekends.”

Ludington will finish the regular season with two non-conference games next week, then will open districts on March 6 against Big Rapids, a team with only one loss.

The good news for Orioles fans is that Big Rapids’ one loss came at the hands of Ludington in early February.

“I think we have the opportunity (to win tournament games) if we continue to guard like we have guarded over the past couple months,” Shank said. “We have more size than we’ve had in the past few years, and we have skilled kids that can play inside and give us offensive balance.

“We’ve just got to take it one game at a time and continue to get better and see what happens.”