By Greg Gielczyk

LUDINGTON — Big Rapids tried to make a comeback in the fourth quarter, shaving Ludington’s lead down to seven points with 1:06 left in the game.

That was as close as the Cardinals would come, however, as the Orioles hung on for a 44-36 victory Friday night to claim their second straight MHSAA Division 2 district title and advance to next week’s regional tournament.

It was the Orioles’ fourth straight win.

“They had a lot of goals, lofty goals, and one of them was to try to play as long as we could,” Ludington head coach Warren Stowe said of the Orioles. “They just left it open like that.

“I think you saw tonight they were motivated in doing that. It’s really nice, and a blessing to have such great senior leadership. I know the seniors were talking to the girls before the game.

“It seems like a little thing, but those kids are nervous. We’re all nervous, and to have five minutes where you’re with your peers, and people you really respect — Abi (Bandstra) or RyAnn (Rohrer) talking to them — it’s really nice. There’s no doubt that’s one of the reasons we came out so well.”

Ludington got off to a great start, although the Cardinals rattled home a 3-point basket to take the first lead of the game. The Orioles responded with an 8-0 run, fueled by six points from Keelyn Laird.

Big Rapids came back to close the gap to two, 8-6, and kept it a two-point game, 12-10 at the end of the first quarter.

The Orioles responded with an 11-0 spurt to start the second quarter, with Bandstra punctuating the run by knocking down a 3-pointer as Ludington took a 21-10 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the half. Ludington eventually went into the half with an 11-point lead, 25-14 after outscoring the Cardinals, 13-4 in the second period.

Bandstra put in a soft hook shot from close range, Rohrer swooped inside for a layup as the Orioles extended their lead to 15 points, 29-14 early in the third quarter.

Rylie Haist hit back-to-back 3-point baskets to bring the Cardinals within nine, 29-20 before the Orioles went back up by 15, 35-20 on a layup by Rylee Stone. Ludington outscored Big Rapids, 16-6 in the third.

The Cardinals made a run at the Orioles in the fourth quarter, knocking Ludington’s lead down to seven, 42-35 at the 1:06 mark. But the Orioles hung on.

“In time outs, the seniors were saying, ‘Hey, we got this,'” said Stowe. “That’s invaluable. You can’t put a price on that. I think in that fourth quarter, too, we knew Big Rapids could shoot it.

“They have multiple girls that can. As a group, those girls know that they can play defense.

“RyAnn Rohrer played the game of her life. She scored, she rebounded, she defended and she also brings the ball up. I’ll bet she took the ball out of bounds every single play tonight. She just did an amazing job.”

Ludington was led in scoring by Rohrer with 12 points. Bandstra and Laird contributed seven apiece, while Stone added six and Annie Kline and Emma McKinley added four apiece.

Haist scored 14 points to lead all scorers for the Cardinals, and Hanna Smith added eight.

Bandstra was a major presence in the game for the Orioles.

“Abi is a gamer,” Stowe said of Bandstra. “I wasn’t shocked to see Abi hit that three, I wasn’t shocked to see Abi get to the rim. I was obviously wasn’t shocked to see Abi play great defense.

“When RyAnn did need help, it was often Abi that was catching the ball and continuing the fast break. They all did a really good job.”

Ludington improved to 17-5 and takes a four-game winning streak into Tuesday night’s regional at Big Rapids. The Orioles will play Standish-Sterling, which won the district title Friday with a 55-38 win over Clare and also improved to 17-5.

Check out photos from the action shot by Joe Washington.