By Greg Gielczyk

CUSTER — Despite its chances in regulation, and then in both overtimes, Mason County Eastern’s girls basketball team ended the regular season with a 58-56 double overtime nailbiter to visiting Manistee Catholic on Thursday night in the Western Michigan D League.

The Sabers jumped out to an early lead, but the Cardinals fought back and the two teams finished the first quarter in a 13-13 deadlock.

Corinna Hernandez knocked down a 3-point shot and added a deuce for five points in the first period for the Cardinals.

“We came out of the gates and were a little flat, and they went up a few on us,” Eastern coach Jake Smith said. “But, we came back strong and stayed strong the rest of the first half.

“They (the Sabers) have quickness on the outside, and they had a lot more effective 3-point shooting than we did tonight, which obviously helped them.”

Hillary Howe scored six points, on two baskets and a pair of free throws, as the Cardinals doubled up on the Sabers in the second quarter, 14-7 to take a 27-20 lead at the half.

Deanna Codman scored six second quarter points for the Cardinals to pace the attack. Hernandez added another triple as well.

But then a few defensive mistakes, when the Cardinals got caught out of position,  and then threw the ball away twice, opened the door for the Sabers to erase the Cardinals lead and take a one-point lead two minutes into the third period.

The Sabers pushed out to a 10-point lead at one point in the third quarter, and wound up outscoring the Cardinals, 19-5 to go into the fourth quarter with a 14-point advantage, 39-25.

“We clawed our way back and slowly, slowly got there,” Smith said. “We had an opportunity to win the game in regulation, in the first overtime and in the second overtime.

“It was a good battle. It really was. They had a girl down in the post (Kaylyn Johnson), which we knew about. She had a great game (23 points). We were defending her, too.”

Eastern held the Sabers’ tough post player to five points in the fourth quarter, while Claudia Fuster tossed in six for the Cardinals to trigger a 16-9 run to tie the score, 48-48 and force overtime.

The first overtime ended in a 51-51 tie, before the Sabers pulled the win out with a 7-5 edge in the second extra session.

“We had a couple people step up that probably don’t normally,” said Smith. “The Fuster girl, I thought she played a very good game.

“Hilary played a great game also, distributing the ball and dribble penetration.”

Eastern had three players in double figures, with Hernadez leading the way with 14 points, including two 3-pointers. Howe finished with 11 and Lucy Shoup added eight.

The Cardinals concluded the regular season 9-10 overall and 9-6 in the WMDs. Eastern opens MHSAA district tournament play Monday night at Marion against Big Rapids Crossroads Academy.