By Greg Gielczyk

MANISTEE — Reed City kept the game close for the first half, but then Ludington’s superior height and perimeter shooting, as well as its defense helped the Orioles speed to a 57-36 victory in Monday night’s opening round of the MHSAA Division 2 district in Manistee.

The game was played at a frenetic pace from start to finish, as the two teams kept it up temp, which threw an electric charge into the crowd, especially the student sections from both schools.

Both teams came in with winning records, with the Coyotes on a two-game winning streak and they showed why early on as they came back from a 9-2 deficit to keep within striking distance.

The Orioles, though, were more than a handful for the Coyotes, especially with 6-foot-7 senior Peyton LaCombe back in the lineup and in the middle against Reed City’s defense.

“Probably a big portion of it was having Peyton LaCombe back in the lineup,” said Ludington coach Thad Shank. “They play that extended 2-3 zone, and they are very athletic and give you issues.

“But, when you have a 6-7 kid that can do everything in the middle of that defense, it just opens a lot of things up for you. I thought him being back in the lineup playing in the middle of that defense made us a really hard guard tonight.”

Ludington appeared on the brink of making quick work of the Coyotes when the Orioles sped out to a seven-point lead, 9-2 in the early moments of the first quarter.

Sophomore guard David Shillinger was the catalyst on defense, using his quickness and active hands to slap the ball away from the Coyotes for steals several times, and often converted them for a driving layup. But he can also shoot from the perimeter, and knocked down a 3-point shot.

Reed City didn’t blink, however, and bounced back to close the gap to two, 9-7 when senior Isaiah Moore tipped in a missed shot, and added a 3-pointer a few seconds later.

Ludington couldn’t shake the hard charging Coyotes throughout the first quarter, never leading by more than two points until Shillinger popped in a 15-foot jumper to give the Orioles a four-point lead, 20-14 at the end of the quarter.

The Orioles went on a run to take an 11-point lead, 30-19 late in the second quarter when LaCombe flushed a two-handed dunk and swished a 3-pointer.

Reed City refused to fold, though, and freshman Landen Jackson’s triple kept the Coyotes in the game. Ludington finished the second period with a 13-8 advantage for a nine-point lead, 33-24 at the half.

“It’s March, and the team that makes shots wins,” Shank said. “We shot the ball from the perimeter a lot better than Reed City tonight, and hopefully that had a little bit to do with our defense.

“I’ve coached some great on-ball defenders in my 20 years at Ludington, and on-ball there’s nobody better than (Shillinger). His anticipation, and his explosiveness is pretty special.

“When you have somebody like that, you get a lot of offense from your defense. That’s huge.”

Shillinger triggered the Oriole defense in the third period, coming up with several steals and deflections and Ludington hit an 8-0 spurt to extend its lead to 17 points, 41-24 more than three minutes into the period.

Ludington limited the Coyotes to just three points in the third quarter, and scored 12 to move out to a 45-27 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Shillinger and LaCombe each scored six points in the fourth quarter for the Orioles, helping them outscore the Coyotes, 12-9 to finish out the game.

Ludington Sophomore David Shillinger scored 17 points on Monday evening in the Orioles 57-36 win over Reed City

LaCombe led all scorers in the game with 29 points for the Orioles, including three 3-pointers, while Shillinger finished with 17 points.

Reed City did not have a player in double figures. Canyon Reed led the Coyotes with nine points and Moore had eight.

The Orioles improved to 13-8 and they advanced to play Big Rapids in the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Manistee takes on Cadillac in the 7 p.m. contest

Reed City finished 14-7.

“Big Rapids is 18-2, and is a good team,” Shank said. “They shoot the living heck out of the ball. It’s

going to be even tougher Wednesday night.

“Our defense is going to really have to contest shots, and we’re going to have to use our size. That will be an advantage.”