By Greg Gielczyk

CADILLAC — It was exactly the kind of game Ludington girls’ basketball coach Warren Stowe wanted Tuesday night in Cadillac.

A defensive battle … tight, and low scoring.

Trailing, 15-14 at the end of the third quarter, the Orioles hit a quick 6-0 spurt to take a five-point lead and led the rest of the way in turning back No. 4 Frankenmurth, 30-27 in a MHSAA Division 2 quarterfinal before a big crowd at Cadillac.

“It’s very fitting for this team to have a 1-0 quarter,” said Stowe, speaking about the third period when the Eagles outscored the Orioles, 1-0.

“Defensively, that’s who we are,” he said. “We joked about it at the quarter break. Then we scored (16) points in that last quarter.”

Frankenmuth was making its first appearance in the state quarterfinals in 26 years, and the Eagles weren’t going to go down easily.

The Orioles haven’t been this far in years, either, and neither team was going to give an inch.

Which meant for a mighty tough defensive struggle.

Ludington coach Warren Stowe (Photo/Joe Washington)

Despite the high stakes – a trip to the Breslin Center for the state semifinals Friday night – the Orioles were laughing and joking during warmups.

“I think playing in Cadillac helped,” Stowe said. “Having the fans and support we had here helped. I think talking to (former coach) Hackert Sunday night helped.

“She said ‘be locked in and loose, locked in and loose.’ We said that for the past 3 days, ‘Be locked in and loose.’ Some of those things that she said, there was no doubt that we were carrying it over.”

Both defenses were on full display in the first quarter, forcing turnovers and contesting shots which resulted in a 6-6 tie after the first 8 minutes.

Ludington scored first, as senior RyAnn Rohrer penetrated the paint and put in a layup for a 2-0 Orioles lead.

The score was tied twice, 2-2 and 4-4, before the Eagles took their first lead of the game, 6-4 when their leading scorer, Mia McLaughlin got inside and taking it up for two.

Oriole sophomore Rylee Stone popped in a 12-foot jumper to tie the score at the buzzer.

“I’m a film watcher and I try to dive in as much as I can,” Stowe said. “That’s my defensive mechanism in those nervous moments. Tons of work.

“We stuck with the plan virtually the whole game,” he said. “I think we went to our ball press and our zone a little more than I thought we could, just with the shooters they had on the floor.

“The girls did a great job of getting their hands out, and playing big, and taking away some of those shots.”

Frankenmuth senior Grace Keinath muscled down an offensive rebound and took it strong back up to the basket to give the Eagles an 8-6 lead to open the second quarter.

Ludington junior Olivia Lynn went down low and scored to tie the game, 9-9.

A 4-0 spurt by the Eagles gave them a 13-9 lead, and Orioles senior Abi Bandstra drew her third foul with 2:20 left in the first half and went to the bench.

Stowe said it didn’t cause him to sweat about it much, even though Bandstra is the Orioles’ best on-ball defender.

“You’re obviously concerned, but a luxury is having kids like (sophomore) Emma McKinley that can step in the game,” said Stowe. “Talking to coach (Dan) Mesyar, Emma McKinley is an even keel through and through.

“She does everything you ask,” he said. “She often doesn’t need to be told. That’s nice to have. The second part of that is Abi getting two fouls is better than Rylee getting two fouls, or (sophomore) Karli (Mesyar) getting two fouls.

“I love Karli and Rylee, but they’re still growing. Abi gets two fouls and she knows she can still impact the game on the bench. If there’s one girl who has to get two quick ones, it’s not good from a basketball standpoint, but mentally Abi Bandstra I knew could stand it.”

After the Eagles made it a two possession game, the Orioles came back, Lynn scoring after a steal to make it 13-11.

Frankenmuth made it 14-11 with a free throw, but Ludington junior Keelyn Laird pounded down the baseline, backed her defender up and went up for a bucket that tied the game, 14-14 at the half.

While the Orioles failed to score in the third quarter, they only allowed the Eagles a free throw by freshman Clare Conzelmann and trailed by just one, 15-14 going into the fourth quarter.

Rohrer pulled down an offensive rebound and scored on a putback to put the Orioles ahead, 16-15 to start the final period.

A layup by Rohrer extended the Ludington lead to three points, 18-15 and then Bandstra zipped a lead pass to Lynn for a layup to make it a two possession game, 20-15 at the 5:15 mark.

The Ludington student section was out in full force on Tuesday evening (Photo/Joe Washington)

Frankenmuth kept battling, though, but Laird got inside for some big buckets down the stretch. One such play gave the Orioles another five-point lead, 24-19 with 2:50 to play.

But then Faith Breinager knocked down a deep 3-point shot and suddenly the Orioles were clinging to a one-point edge, 24-23 with two minutes still left in regulation.

The Eagles soared back in front, 25-24 on a bucket by senior Emma Kerkau with 1:43 on the clock.

It would be the last lead Frankenmuth would enjoy.

Rohrer answered Kerkau’s basket with a drive down the lane for a scoop shot, and Laird followed with another bucket and the Orioles led by three, 28-25 with 52 seconds left.

Breinager scored for the Eagles, narrowing the margin to one, 28-27 with 46.1 seconds left. But, the Eagles would not score again.

Rohrer finished it off with two free throws with 16.5 seconds left, and then the Orioles fittingly ended it by forcing a turnover at the Eagles end, and running out the clock.

The Ludington student section exploded with an ear splitting shriek when the last second ticked off and the horn sounded.

“Up four there right at the end, you’re like, ‘okay, this is going to happen,’ and then Boom! 3-pointer,” said Stowe. “Then you have a turnover.

“You’re not sweating, but you’re back fully locked in to ‘what do I have to do, what do we have to be in?’ I felt better at four then I did at one.”

Rohrer finished the game with 12 points to lead Ludington. She was followed by Laird with eight, Lynn chipped in with six, Stone had two and Mesyar added a free throw.

Kerkau paced the Eagles, who finished 22-3, with nine points and McLaughlin scored six.

The Orioles are on a seven-game winning streak, improving their record to 20-5 and will face another ranked team, Detroit Edison, in the semifinals Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.