Big Rapids falls to Kingsley 56-39 in Class B regional final

Players on the Big Rapids bench embrace seniors Leah Morningstar, Kelsey Walch, Kaitlyn Ray, and Jayla Strickland as they leave the court during the closing moments of Thursday’s regional game. (Pioneer photo/Maxwell Harden)

CADILLAC — The Big Rapids girls basketball team knew it was going to have its work cut out for it entering Thursday’s game against undefeated Kingsley.

The Stags — led by Ferris State-bound senior Jalynn Brumfield — pulled away after a close first quarter and went on to win 56-39 in Class B regional final action at Cadillac High School.

“I thought we had a good gameplan,” head coach Jessica Haist said. “We knew they had a lot of weapons and knew they could score. Our goal was to keep them on their toes. We got good shots, but they didn’t fall.

“They’re a good team and they’ve had a good season. I’m proud of my kids because they compete with class and dignity. The seniors are leaving pretty big shoe to fill.”

Strickland led all scorers with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks. Strickland reached the 1,000-point milestone in Tuesday’s game against Ogemaw Heights and finishes her career with 1,021 points.

“It was a tough matchup,” Strickland said. “They were knocking down shots on the outside. We just continued to battle and compete.”

Kaitlyn Ray had seven assists and 12 rebounds and Kelsey Walch added six points off the bench.

Brittany Bowman and Kelsie Bies scored 10 points apiece for Kingsley and Brumfield added nine points. Brumfield, who can score in bunches, focused in on defense on Thursday.

“I lock down on defense,” Brumfield said. “My offense could’ve been stronger but everyone else was hitting, so why force it?”

The Cardinals got off to a good start against the Stags with Strickland scoring the team’s first six points. Big Rapids led early in the first quarter until Kingsley’s vaunted perimeter offense started to heat up. With the game tied at 8-8, the Stags hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to kick off a 17-4 run that put them up 25-12  midway through the second quarter. A Strickland basket cut the lead to single digits for the Cardinals at 27-18, but the Stags took a 32-20 lead into halftime.

“We knew what they needed to do,” Haist said. “We got off to a good start. They just caught fire and we didn’t respond there in the second quarter.”

“We played hard and smart,” Brumfield said. “They (Big Rapids) had a lot more turnovers in the first half. Those turnovers made a huge difference.”

Strickland started the second half with a bucket to cut Kingsley’s lead back down to 10. That would prove to be as close as the Cardinals would get the rest of the way.

Big Rapids couldn’t solve the riddle of Kingsley’s ball movement and shooting. The Stags led by as many as 17 in the third after a Lacey Benton 3-pointer connected to give Kingsley a 47-30 lead entering the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter saw both teams’ offenses struggle with missed shots and turnovers, but the Stags were able to extend their lead to as many as 23 points. The Cardinals continued to battle, with senior Kelsey Walch coming off the bench to provide a scoring boost for the Cardinals.

With roughly 1:30 remaining in the game, Haist pulled seniors Leah Morningstar, Ray, Strickland, and Walch from the game amid much fanfare from the Cardinal fans.

“These seniors have won three conference championships and two district championships,” Haist said. “Now they’ve been to the regional finals. They’ve left a legacy with the program.”

The Cardinals finish the season with a 22-3 record, including a 49-34 win over rival Central Montcalm on their way to a district title. While they wish the outcome had been different, they’re proud of their accomplishments as a team.

“It was a great ride,” Strickland said. “We bonded together as a team and got to know each other a lot better. It was just great.”

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