By Greg Gielczyk

MANISTEE — Ludington’s boys basketball team saw a couple of defenses it wasn’t used to in Wednesday night’s MHSAA Division 3 district semifinal against Big Rapids at Manistee.

It took some time for the Orioles to make the necessary adjustments and get their offense in gear. But, once they did it was just a matter of time before they took control

A lot had to do with the Orioles’ defense keeping the Cardinals from going on any big runs, and Ludington eventually established a double figure lead in the second half en route to a 54-43 win and a spot in Friday night’s 7 p.m. district final.

Ludington senior Peyton LaCombe scored career point 1000 on Wednesday evening

Ludington senior Peyton LaCombe needed just two points to reach 1,000 for his career, and he didn’t waste any time, hitting a bucket early in the first quarter.

He would go down with an ankle injury shortly after, but returned to the game and was a presence inside for the Orioles, and finished with 10 points.

Orioles head coach Thad Shank wasn’t surprised the Cardinals gave the Orioles all they wanted for most of the contest.

“I mean, you play an 18-2 team in the districts it’s going to be tough,” said Shank. “Coach Ingles from Big Rapids has always done a phenomenal job with his kids.

“They showed us the triangle-and-two and the box-and-one look, and it made us a little bit tentative in the first half. That’s only natural when it’s something you haven’t experienced before.

“Second half, we got a little bit more comfortable and played our game. We got a lot of great looks in it, and they got out of it. I was really excited about our defense tonight. That’s a hard team to guard.”

Ludington found itself trailing, 4-1 with 3:41 left in the first quarter as its offense spurted early. But, the Orioles closed the quarter on a 5-1 run to finish the period with a narrow 6-5 lead, LaCombe adding the capper with an offensive putback.

The Orioles outscored the Cardinals, 7-2 over the first four minutes and change of the second quarter to build a six-point margin, 13-7.

Big Rapids came right back, eventually tying the score, 17-17 with only a minute left before LaCombe got inside for a lay-in to send the Orioles into the locker room with a 19-17 edge at the half.

A 10-0 run by the Orioles vaulted them into a 12-point lead, 29-17 with under three minutes left in the third quarter. Levi Laman scored on back-to-back baskets at the end of the run.

Laman scored six points in the third period, and the Orioles outscored the Cardinals, 17-7 and mounted a 12-point lead, 36-24 going into the fourth quarter.

Big Rapids wouldn’t go away, cutting the Ludington lead to seven points, 44-27 with 2:59 left in regulation. But the Orioles held the Cardinals off down the stretch.

“They’re a hard team for us to guard with the dominant penetrator, and the (Demarcus) Lee kid in the middle, and three shooters spaced around them,” Shank said.

“For playing for the first time in probably six or seven years, we played all half-court man-to-man defense without switching anything up. I thought we did a pretty darn good job of it overall.

“There was a competitive spirit on the floor tonight. Both teams wanted this game bad tonight.”

Shillinger drew the defensive assignment of guarding Lee, and Shank felt he did a good job controlling Lee’s penetration.

“They love to penetrate, and kick to their shooters. We weren’t providing much help for Dave because of the fact we were sitting on shooters a little bit and he did a good job keeping them in front of us.”

Shank was also happy with Laman’s play.

“Levi played one of the better games of his career,” the Ludington coach said. “When we were passive on the offensive end, he looked to be aggressive and got us some key buckets.”

Shillinger was the pacesetter for the Orioles on offense with 20 points, while Laman finished with 13 and LaCombe added 10 points.

Big Rapids was led in scoring by Jack Ruggles with 10 points.

The Orioles improved to 14-8 with their third straight win, and now face Cadillac (16-5) in the district championship game Friday night at 7 p.m.