Hornets beat Cardinals 45-38 in CSAA battle

Jayla Strickland (42) attacks the basket while Central Montcalm’s Libby Ledford (30) defends. (Pioneer photo/Maxwell Harden)

BIG RAPIDS — The Big Rapids girls basketball team controlled Central Montcalm through the first quarter of Friday night’s game, but the Cardinals struggled down the stretch, falling 45-38 at home.

“The kids worked hard,” head coach Jessica Haist said. “It was a great atmosphere, win, lose, or draw. Central Montcalm is a deep, talented team.”

Friday’s game essentially decided an outright CSAA Gold champion, with a Big Rapids win guaranteeing at least a shared title. But it was not meant to be.

The game started out slow with both teams failing to score in the first few minutes. But Holly McKenna got the Cardinals going with seven first-quarter points as the Cardinals jumped out to a 13-4 lead after one quarter of play.

A Savannah Seath coast-to-coast layup to start the second quarter put the Cardinals up 15-4, much to the delight of Big Rapids fans. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Seath’s basket was the only one they would score the rest of the half.

The Hornets rallied using a 12-0 run to take a 16-15 lead at halftime.

“Holly hit some big shots for us,” head coach Jessica Haist said. “We were firing, and then we couldn’t get over the hump again.”

Central Montcalm’s 3-point shooting came alive in the second half. After a Kaitlyn Ray three-point play tied the game at 18, back-to-back Central Montcalm 3-pointers put the Hornets up 24-18.

A Strickland three-point play pushed the Cardinals within three points, 27-24. But the Hornets responded with another 3-pointer to go up 30-24.

The Hornets led 34-27 after the third quarter.

Trailing 38-30, Seath knocked down a 3-pointer to pull the Cardinals within five, but a Libby Ledford 3-pointer put the Hornets back up eight.

Big Rapids was forced to foul late and couldn’t make up the difference.

The Hornets were able to keep Strickland in check. She finished with 12 points and 19 rebounds. The Cardinals shot 12 of 48 (25 percent) from the field.

“We didn’t hold our positions well,” Haist said. “We didn’t see her. We had the game-plan but we didn’t execute it like the way we did in practice.”

Seath had 10 points and three assists while Holly McKenna added seven points.

Central Montcalm (18-0, 12-0) remains undefeated and Big Rapids (16-2, 10-2) will host Reed City on Tuesday and Chippewa Hills on Friday for Senior Night. The loss was a tough pill to swallow, but the Cardinals realize that they still have much to play for.

“Reed City is always a good one,” Haist said. “We’ll host Chippewa Hills on Senior Night and then we host Alma in the first round of districts the following Monday. Central Montcalm got the lucky draw and will wait for the winner of our game.

“We hope we get another chance at them in a couple of weeks.”

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