By Greg Gielczyk
Local Sports Journal

LUDINGTON — What seemed to have the makings of a runaway for the Ludington girls basketball team after the Orioles opened up a 17-point lead at the half, instead turned into a very real battle for survival Saturday in the second at Hawley Gymnasium.

The Vikings roared back in the second half to twice climb within six points of the Orioles, the last at 41-35 midway through the fourth quarter.

But, the Orioles weathered the storm and went on a 8-0 run, eventually finishing with a strong 49-39 victory in the non-conference game to snap a two-game losing streak and even their record at 4-4.

“That’s just a Whitehall team that’s not going to quit,” Ludington coach Warren Stowe said. “We knew that going in. A couple careless mistakes on the defensive end, and just like that they cut a (17-point) lead to (six), and it’s a ball game.

“We battled through that third quarter and stretched it back out to 10, and that’s kind of where it sat for most of the fourth. I can only call a timeout so many times.

“It’s that kind of thing as a coach, do you stop it and talk to them, or do you try and let them walk through it? I tried to walk that fine line, and let them work through some of it, and when they cut it down to six just let them play. Because that’s life, and that’s basketball. They have to figure it out at some point.”

The Orioles were dominant in the first 16 minutes, speeding out to a 8-1 lead. Ludington enjoyed a convincing 20-7 advantage after the first quarter, with 6-foot-3 senior center Keelyn Laird accounting for six points.

Ludington continued to roll in the second period, outscoring the Vikings, 13-9 which swelled the Orioles’ lead to 17 points, 33-16 at halftime.

But the tables were turned in the second half, as Whitehall mounted a furious comeback fueled by a defensive change that hd the Orioles flustered.

The Vikings also received a spark from junior Autumn Ferris, who buried a 3-point shot and then scored on an offensive putback to aid a 9-0 run that shaved the Orioles’ lead to eight, late in the third quarter.

Ferris kissed a shot off the glass on a runner that had the Vikings knocking on the door, trailing the Orioles by just six points, 37-31 with under a minute to play, and finished with a 15-5 scoring advantage to trail by only seven, 38-31 going into the last period.

“We tried to battle back, got it down to six and were right there,” said Whitehall coach Derek Westerlund. “Our guards right now are just a little tentative.

“We could have hit a couple more 3’s, or limited the turnovers a little bit better and been able to overcome. But, they (the Orioles) made some big shots and pulled it out. We kind of lost our mojo with about six minutes left.

“It was fun to see, and these girls will compete. We’re not perfect as far as execution or shooting, but seems like we’re in games because we play such good defense, and so hard. As a coach, that’s really kind of what you’re asking for. Play as hard as you physically can, and then let the chips fall where they may.”

Sophomore forward Emma Mckinley hit a huge 3-point shot to open the fourth quarter, and sent the Orioles out to a 10-point lead, 41-31.

But the Vikings refused to wilt, and cut the Ludington lead back down to six, 41-35 on two free throws and a bucket from senior forward Charley Klint.

Ludington showed its own resilience, however, bouncing back with a 8-0 run that ended Whitehall’s bid.

“I think we had a lot of girls who played really well,” Stowe said. “Keelyn Laird had another monster game like she always does. I think our guards, Karli Mesyar, Abbey Bandstra and Annie Kline … they all played really well.

“Before the game I asked the team to take two charges, and Karli took both of them. On one of them, it drew a technical out of the Whitehall coach. That was a big point for us in the second half.

“Proud of them all for stepping up, and great win for us coming off no practices because of snow, thinking you’re playing Orchard View then that doesn’t happen and then it’s on to Whitehall, and having to switch gears.”

Laird paced the Orioles with 14 points. Mckinley tossed in nine, Olivia Lynn contributed seven and Rylee Stone and Bandstra each added six.

Klint had a big game for the Vikings, who dropped to 3-5 with the loss. She scored 22 points and hauled in eight rebounds to lead the Vikings. Ferris finished with nine points and five rebounds, while Hailey Carnes contributed five points and three assists.

Ludington’s snowed out game Friday with Orchard View has been re-scheduled for Monday at Hawley Gymnasium. Whitehall is scheduled to host Mason County Central on Tuesday night.