By Steve Gunn and Andrew Johnson
Laman and the Ludington Orioles took their Cinderella run to the Division 2 state semifinals at the Breslin Center at Michigan State University on Friday.
And the run ended with a painful, one-sided 69-30 loss to Hudsonville Unity Christian.
But just getting back to the Breslin was a thrill for Laman, who first made headlines two years ago as a sophomore, when he hit a miracle 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime to give Ludington a shocking win in the state semifinals.
After all, his senior season has not been without its bumps. The Orioles finished the regular season below .500 with a 9-10 record, and lost five of their last six games of the regular season.
But then they caught fire in the state tournament and somehow earned their way back to the state semifinals.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Laman, who finished with a team-high nine points while playing in foul trouble for much of the game. “I really didn’t think I’d be able to come back. But Coach Shank did a great job of getting us ready and it really came together at the end.”
Ludington fans will long remember the five-game run in the tournament, which included victories in districts over Reed City and Cadillac, wins in regionals in Standish-Sterling and Escanaba, and a huge win in the state quarterfinals over Alma.
But they will probably be happy to forget Friday’s semifinal, which Unity Christian dominated from start to finish.
The Crusaders took control early with a 20-4 advantage after one quarter.
The Orioles showed a little life early in the second quarter with a short run, sparked by a layup and triple by Laman and and a bucket by Jayden Hathaway to make the score 23-11.
But Unity Christian led 37-18 by halftime and 50-22 after three quarters.
The Crusaders shots the lights out all night, hitting 59 percent from the floor. That included 8 of 13 shots from three-point range, for 61 percent.
Ludington shot 33 percent from the floor and struggled with Unity Christian’s aggressive defense, coughing the ball up 24 times.
“I knew it would take quite a great effort tonight to beat this Unity Christian team,” said Ludington Coach Thad Shank, whose team finished the season with a 14-11 record. “We haven’t seen a team that runs the ball in transition like they do, or a team that phsically pressures like they do. What an absolutely great team we played tonight.”
Nate Lange and Sam Bandstra both scored five points for Ludington while Hathaway and Riley Calhoun had four apiece.
Noah Wiswary led Hudsonville Unity Christian with 17 points.
When it was all over, Coach Shank expressed his pride in the way his team pulled itself together in the state tournament and turned a tough season into a very successful one.
“In sports, when things are not going your way, there’s always a lot of noise (from outsiders),” Shank said. “These kids heard all those things, but each and every day they came to play, did what the coaches told them and continued to fight and claw.
“You see so many teams that lose four or five games in a row at the end of the season and pack it in, but these guys continued to fight. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”