Youthful Chippewas rally, but fall short against rival Orioles

Manistee freshman Emilee Kott (15) elevates for a shot during the second half of Friday’s loss to Ludington at Hawley Gymnasium. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

LUDINGTON — In the waning moments of a tightly-contested rivalry game, four of the five Ludington players on the floor were seniors.

Manistee boasted a lineup of two sophomores and three freshmen.

Despite a valiant rally by the younger road team, experience prevailed as Ludington held on for a 53-49 win on Friday night at Hawley Gymnasium.

“It’s going to come, it’s going to come,” said Manistee coach Kenn Kott, whose young team has dropped three road games in which it had early leads. “We’re learning to be patient, but we’re definitely not learning to roll over.”

After being held to just six points over the first three quarters, Ludington senior D’Erika Varenhorst scored all 12 of her team’s points in the fourth and went 8-for-10 from the free throw line in the quarter to seal the third straight win in the rivalry for the Orioles.

“I thought she really posted well in that fourth quarter and really tried to command the basketball,” said Ludington coach Thad Shank, the longtime boys coach in his first season with the girls. “When she didn’t get it, she got second shots. She was clutch at the free throw line down the stretch — big free throw after big free throw.”

Manistee rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter and got as close as a point late. Trailing 51-49 with 14 seconds left, the Chippewas had a chance to tie or go ahead but sophomore Annie Fuller’s shot in the lane rimmed out.

“It was one of the options,” Kott said of the shot. “She could have kicked it out for a 3, but she had the good look at it and we’ll take that shot every time. It just didn’t go in.”

Fuller led the Chippewas (2-3) with 14 points to go with three steals while freshman Audrey Tomaszewski had 11 points and seven rebounds and freshman Emilee Kott scored nine.

Ludington (4-1), which went to a regional final last year, had just one player in double figures in Varenhorst, who finished with 18 points and 19 rebounds after scoring 37 against the Chippewas last season.

Manistee junior Stephanie Smogoleski (31) shoots in traffic during the second half. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

“Most of these kids weren’t playing last year, but I’ll tell you what, they were at the game and they do remember her scoring all those points,” Kenn Kott said of his players. “I think that was something in their head that they knew ‘we can’t let her do that underneath.’ … As far defensive effort down low on her, I’ll take free throws over layups.”

The Chippewas started strong and led by as many as seven early before taking a 16-11 lead into the second quarter.

“The biggest thing I was so pleased about was we came out at the start of the game and executed so well defensively, especially,” Kenn Kott said. “There had to be nerves, there had to be excitement. … (but) they didn’t really show it out there. I thought they executed real well and for the most part held their poise the whole night, except that little burst there in the second quarter.”

Ludington led by just two at 26-24 with less than a minute left in the second, but took advantage of turnovers and closed the quarter on a 9-0 run for a 35-24 lead at halftime.

“We had a little lapse there at the end of the first half basically with handling the press and we got a little out of balance,” Kenn Kott said. “That will happen, but I thought we came back in the second half and recovered really well. We were down by a lot of points, chipped away little by little and that’s tough to do for an inexperienced team.”

Both teams scored six points in a stagnant third quarter — in which Ludington led by as many as 15 — to keep the margin at 11. But, Manistee opened the fourth on a run, scoring the first six points in a little more than a minute while pulling out of a half-court zone and going into a full-court trap.

“I think it gave us a little energy,” Kenn Kott said. “When you’re in a zone sometimes, the longer you stay in it, you get a little flat-footed and even though the game is going on, you think you’re moving, but you’re not. By going into the trapping and the man-to-man, it makes us move a lot quicker and some of our girls need that to keep in the flow and just get energized again.”

Shank said he thought his team fell out what it had been doing well and wasn’t as aggressive on offense.

“I think it’s always tougher to play with a lead in basketball,” he said.

Fuller hit a pair of free throws to pull Manistee within a point at 48-47 with 1:59 remaining and after Ludington went ahead by four, Kott scored in the paint to make it 51-49 with 42 seconds left. Ludington’s Kristen Reidenbach missed a pair of free throws with 21 seconds left, setting up the shot that wouldn’t drop for Fuller.

Varenhorst drained a pair with 6 seconds left to ice the game and send the Chippewas home looking for their first win at Ludington since 2008.

“There’s a lot to the game of basketball,” Kenn Kott said. “Part of it is physical, part of it is mental and I’m really proud tonight of the way these girls mentally handled the game.

“They were extremely happy with the way they played and I think I’m even happier.”

And, there will be a Round 2 in the rivalry as Ludington visits Manistee for another varsity-only doubleheader on Feb. 1.

“I wish we would have came out on top,” Tomaszewski said, “but there’s next time at home. We’ll be in the gym until then.”

 

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