REGIONAL PREVIEW: Portagers, Lakers face tough regional semis

Onekama’s Colleen McCarthy looks to pass during the Portagers’ district final win over Pentwater on Friday. McCarthy and Onekama will face top-ranked Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart in the Class D regional semifinals on Tuesday. (News Advocate file photo)

Onekama’s Colleen McCarthy looks to pass during the Portagers’ district final win over Pentwater on Friday. McCarthy and Onekama will face top-ranked Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart in the Class D regional semifinals on Tuesday. (News Advocate file photo)

Both Onekama and Bear Lake will both go into Tuesday’s Class D girls basketball regional semifinals at Big Rapids Crossroads as presumed underdogs, but neither team will be intimidated.

The Portagers will have the toughest regional matchup in the state, against the top-ranked team in Class D, undefeated defending state semifinalist Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart.

The Irish (22-0) go into the regional having won five consecutive regional titles and the Class D state championship in 2014. Sacred Heart has held 12 opponents under 20 points this season, one of those in postseason play, a 64-12 win over Baldwin in the district semifinals.

After two winning tough district games as a nominal favorite, and winning two games in which they seemed to be playing a bit tight as a result, the Portagers (12-10) will find itself in a bit of a role reversal in the regional tournament.

Onekama head coach Jim Armstrong said that his team will go into the contest with the confidence of a team with nothing to lose.

“I think it will be a game,” Armstrong said. “I’ve got kids who are capable of being competitive, and anybody can beat anybody on a given night.”

Armstrong said that the Irish are an athletic team that will routinely employ a full-court press to try to generate easy layups.

“We’ve got to take care of the basketball,” Armstrong said. “If we take care of the ball, if we make good decisions, I think we’ll be fine. They’re going to get after us, but if we can keep our turnovers down and get into the fourth quarter still in the game, anything can happen.”

Onekama is no stranger to playing state-champion caliber teams. The insanely tough Northwest Conference has produced four different district champions this season, including top-ten teams in both Class B (Kingsley) and Class C (Maple City Glen Lake).

“We learned a lot this year,” Armstrong said. “I don’t look for them (Sacred Heart) to be any better than Kingsley or Glen Lake to be honest, and we competed with them the second time around.

“We’re not going just to play the game, we’re going down there and trying to win the darn thing. I’m looking forward to it, and I think the kids are, too.”

Bear Lake (17-5) will use a similar game-plan to the one that helped win its district title when it faces 19-3 Fruitport Calvary Christian in the other regional semifinal.

Like district finalist Brethren, Fruitport Calvary (19-3) leans heavily on one star player for the bulk of its offense, sophomore Kelsey Richards. Richards scored 30 points and had 8 rebounds in a surprisingly tough district championship game, a 44-42 squeaker against Muskegon Heights which the Eagles won with a basket at the buzzer.

Richards, the daughter of Eagles head coach Brad Richards, has been a varsity player since eighth grade and has already scored over 1000 points as a sophomore.

Lakers head coach Jeff Harthun said that three tough games against Brethren and its star player, Mariah Pringle, will be a big help in the regional semifinals.

“We’re going to prepare like they’re Brethren,” Harthun said. “(Richards) is like Mariah, she can go inside and outside, and everything funnels through her. They’re going to give it to her, and the rest of them are very good rebounders. We’ve got to stop that, we’ve got to stop her from penetrating, and I think we’ll be okay.”

The Lakers are hitting their stride at the right time. After their big, emotional win over the Bobcats on Friday, they are also going into regionals with a bit more spring in their step than they would have otherwise.

Harthun said that his team played a complete game in the district final.

“I think that my girls feel really confident that they did,” he said. “You can’t have a lapse now. Every team you play is good, period. If we can limit that lull, where we take our foot off the gas, we’ll take our chances with them.

“I think we’re ready.”

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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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