Cards push past Sabers late

MANISTEE — Recovering from a double-digit deficit wasn’t a problem for Manistee Catholic Central.

Neither was building a lead.

Finishing, however, proved elusive.

Mason County Eastern closed the game on an 8-0 run and held the Sabers scoreless for nearly the final half of the fourth quarter en route to a 55-48 West Michigan D League win Wednesday night.

Manistee Catholic Central’s Blake Vargas (32) elevates for a shot during the second half of Wednesday’s loss to Mason County Eastern. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

Manistee Catholic Central’s Blake Vargas (32) elevates for a shot during the second half of Wednesday’s loss to Mason County Eastern. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

“I think that’s where our lack of experience shows when it comes down to the wire,” said MCC senior Ben Feliczak. “We’re still working on getting adjusted to the game speed and working through our offense.”

The Sabers (2-6, 2-5 WMD) trailed by as many as 11 in the first half and led by as many as nine in the second half before the Cardinals (4-5, 3-4) surged late for their second straight win against MCC after the two teams played last Wednesday.

“It was a matchup that we thought we had an advantage in,” said first-year MCC coach J.J. Randall, whose team has dropped five straight. “Most of the game we actually did, besides the first quarter and the end of the game.”

Feliczak led the Sabers with 16 points to go with nine rebounds, five steals and four assists, Jason Kaminski had 10 points and seven rebounds before fouling out while Chad Robke scored nine, Blake Vargas seven and Jordan Kuenzer six.

Jimmy Appledorn led the Cardinals with 20 points and 15 rebounds while Travis McCormick scored 13

“Appledorn had a real good game,” said MCE coach Ed Knizacky. “Travis McCormick probably played his best ballgame of the year. He’s coming along really well.”

McCormick sparked the Cardinals early with five first-quarter points as MCE took a 14-3 lead.

“It’s frustrating, but the kids have had three days off. It’s just out of our routine,” Randall said. “They came out flat, but I was proud to see they picked it up. Our press really worked.”

After Randall called his second timeout of the first, the Sabers began to press and closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to pull within four at 14-10.

“We’ve been working on staying focused so we can come out with more spark, more intensity,” Feliczak said. “We came out better than before.”

Kaminski, who spent most of the game in foul trouble, scored the first four points of the second to knot the score before the Cardinals responded with a 12-4 run and took a 26-21 lead into halftime.

The Sabers played their best ball of the game in the third quarter as they forced turnovers, scored in transition and got a trio of three-pointers from sophomores in two from Robke and one from Kuenzer.

“I have some sophomores that are really starting to step up,” Randall said, “and that’s really exciting to see.”

Robke’s triple from the corner less than two minutes into the quarter gave MCC its first lead of the game and was part of a 20-6 run to start the second half that gave the Sabers a 41-32 advantage.

“There’s a lot of positive moments, a lot of things we can take from that,” Randall said. “Very aggressive start in the third quarter.”

After falling behind by nine, it was almost all Cardinals the rest of the way as they outscored the Sabers 7-0 to close the quarter and 23-7 the rest of the game. MCC went scoreless the final 3:16 of the third to hold a 41-39 lead going into the fourth.

“That’s when my true team came out,” Knizacky said.

After going away from the 6-foot-9, 280-pound Appledorn for stretches of the game, the Cardinals exploited the mismatch late in the third and early in the fourth as the senior scored 11 straight.

Feliczak hit a triple to open the fourth, but was the only Saber who scored in the final quarter. And after his basket in the lane with 3:42 put MCC up 48-47, the Sabers were held scoreless the rest of the way.

Justice Gilchrist hit a triple to put MCE up for good at 50-48 with 3:30 to play.

“I called my last timeout,” Knizacky said. “I told them I don’t have any more timeouts, if you want to win this game, this is what we have to do. That’s what they did.”

MCC was whistled for a couple late charging calls and couldn’t make a number of decent looks in the paint as their losing streak continued.

“I think they’re building confidence each day,” Randall said. “I’ve said it: It’s a learning experience for me, it’s a learning experience for them. … We’ve gotten better in every game.”

The MCC JV team beat MCE 35-24. Joe Slivka led the Sabers with 13 points and Nick Bialik scored 10.

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