Bear Lake fights off valiant Sabers in 60-51 win to stay atop standings

Bear Lake’s Trey Gilbert (24) goes to the basket, defended by Manistee Catholic Central’s Andrea Marconi, during the Lakers’ 60-51 win over the Sabers Friday night. Gilbert scored 18 points in the game. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

Bear Lake’s Trey Gilbert (24) goes to the basket, defended by Manistee Catholic Central’s Andrea Marconi, during the Lakers’ 60-51 win over the Sabers Friday night. Gilbert scored 18 points in the game. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — Bear Lake kept ahold of the reins in the West Michigan D League boys basketball title race, but had to fight off a tremendous challenge from Manistee Catholic Central to do it.

Kaiden Hejl led all scorers with 22 points, including six clutch free throws down the stretch, and Trey Gilbert added 18 to lead the Lakers to a 60-51 win Friday night.

With the win, Bear Lake sits alone atop the WMDL standings, one game ahead of Baldwin, which defeated Pentwater 68-61 in a virtual elimination game also on Friday night.

The win also took a bit of the bad taste out of the Lakers’ collective mouth two days after picking up their first WMDL loss at Baldwin, with an effort that disappointed Bear Lake head coach Garret Waller as well as his players.

“They were (ticked) off and so was I,” Waller said. “I’d hoped we could have won (tonight) by a bit more because I feel like I’m going to have a heart attack right now, but it was a good win for us.”

Three different players scored in double figures for the Sabers (9-4 overall, 5-4 WMDL), led by Brayden Perkins’ 14.

The last of Perkins’ points, a 3-pointer from the corner, completed a comeback from a 12-point third-quarter deficit, and gave MCC a 51-50 lead with 5:14 left in the contest.

But those would be the last points the Sabers could muster, as they suddenly could not put the ball in the hole. Layups, putbacks and even free throws rimmed out, which forced the Sabers to foul.

The last three or four minutes, we just couldn’t get anything to fall,” Sabers head coach Mike Feliczak said. “It would have changed the last two minutes tremendously. I’m not saying we would have won, but it would have been a different scenario.”

 MCC started the game promisingly enough, as a fast-break bucket by Kyle Mikolajczak gave the Sabers an 8-4 lead about halfway through the first quarter.

But Bear Lake (10-2, 8-1) reeled off the next 13 points in a span of 2:10, in the first of two big runs in the game that looked like they were going to run away and hide.

The second of those runs came late in the second quarter, when the Lakers opened up a 33-21 lead at the half.

A back-door layup by Gary McBride gave Bear Lake its biggest lead, 41-26 with 5:24 left in the third quarter, but again MCC reeled them back in.

Mikolajczak drained three 3-pointers to help the Sabers cut the deficit to a manageable 47-41 going into the fourth quarter.

“I was happy with three quarters, the first, second and fourth,” Waller said. “We caught them doing some of the things that we were doing wrong in the Baldwin game, getting beat down the floor, and we can’t let that happen. We were up 12 at one point and we gave it all back. We can’t be doing that.”

But the Laker defense, and a seeming lid on the Sabers’ basket, sealed the win. Bear Lake free throws, the last of which came on an “and-1” 3-point play by Hejl with 12.6 seconds left, made the final score 60-51.

“We came into this game ready to go to town. We were pretty mad about (Baldwin) we definitely felt like it was a game we could win,” Hejl said. “This is huge. We’re leading the conference, and we’re feeling confident going into our next couple of games.”

Waller said that he was not surprised that MCC gave his team such a scare.

“They play probably the best man-to-man defense that we’ve seen so far,” Waller said. “They really know how to do it, they cover the paint well and their help-side took away a lot of our dribble-drives.”

Despite the loss, the game was proof positive that MCC is no longer the team that stumbled through a 1-win season just last year, and was a legitimate WMDL title contender.

 “It’s a step up for us to be able to compete with the best team in the league,” Feliczak said. “I still think we’re climbing the mountain and getting to where we want to be.”

Miklajczak finished with 13 points and Austin VanAelst had 10 for the Sabers.

Travis Johnson scored 10 points and Gary McBride puled down a team-high 10 rebounds for the Lakers.

Bear Lake won the JV game 44-24.

Next up for MCC is a non-league game at Grand Traverse Academy on Tuesday, Feb. 6. Bear Lake will also play a non-league game on Tuesday, when they host Mason County Central.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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