By: Daniel Stickradt
GIRLS BASKETBALL: Michigan Lutheran Seminary downs Our Lady of the Lakes to reach semifinals for first time
BY DAN STICKRADT
BURTON — There is always a first for everything.
For Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary, the first trip to the Class D Final Four is now a reality.
The unranked Cardinals, playing a schedule against mostly Class B and Class C schools, dispatched fifth-ranked Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, 56-48, Tuesday night in the Class D state quarterfinals at Burton Bendle High School.
Michigan Lutheran Seminary (17-9) will face Engadine (19-5) at 6 p.m. Thursday at Michigan State University’s Jack Breslin Center in the state semifinals.
“This will be our first time ever in the semifinals. We’ve been close before, but couldn't get over the hump,” smiled MLS coach Brian Blaine. “Lakes beat us in the quarters in 2012. That was the closest we’ve been until now. The girls believed that they could do it. It’s a tribute to them and all of the hard work. We beat a really strong program with a lot of history.”
Our Lady of the Lakes, which had reached the Final Four in six of the last seven seasons and was playing in its seventh state quarterfinals game in eight years, finished the season with a 19-6 mark.
Lakes lost in the semifinals the last two years to No. 1-ranked and eventual state champion Pittsford. The Lakers captured state titles themselves in 2010, 2011 and 2012 and finished as the state runner-up in 2013.
“I really felt that even with having only one senior, the way the season was going that we’d have a chance to make the final,” offered Lakes coach Steve Robak. “We’ve been on a roll and being in the semifinals the past two years, we had experience with some of our girls playing at this stage. It just wasn't meant to be for us this year. Saginaw was just the better team today. They got hot in that second quarter and we could never fully recover.”
Sophomore forward Meghan Blaine broke loose and torched Lakes with a career-high 25 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots in leading the Cardinals to unchartered waters. Blaine connected on 4-of-6 three-pointers and was 5-of-7 from the charity stripe.
Trailing 16-11 in the second quarter, Blaine drained a trio of three-pointers in a span of 3:09 in the second quarter as part of a 10-0 run that gave the Cardinals a 21-16 lead with 2:49 left in the second frame.
Michigan Lutheran Seminary outscored WOLL 18-5 in the pivotal second quarter for a 27-18 halftime lead — a lead the Cardinals would not relinquish.
“We did a great job with that run in the second quarter and every time they made a run at us in the second half, we were able to slow them down and make some shots and free throws,” said Coach Blaine.
Michigan Lutheran’s advantage reached 13 points in the third quarter when senior center Rylee Pankow swished a short-range jumper to put the Cardinals up 34-21 with 5:47 left in the third.
WOLL charged back and cut the lead down to 38-32 later in the third quarter before MLS rebuilt the advantage up to 42-32 entering the fourth quarter.
“I thought that No. 44 (Pankow) was their best player that we saw (on film). We didn't let her go wild and score a ton of points on us,” said Robak. “We decided to make other players beat us and Blaine had a career-day for them. She hit all of those threes and we couldn’t stop her for a while there.
“I thought we worked for some good shots on our own. We missed several lay-ups and even had some good looks from three that didn't go in,” continued Robak. “But they made their shots and we were a little off tonight. That’s the way basketball goes sometimes. I was proud of our effort coming back. We cut it to six points a couple of times in the second half, but we just couldn’t catch up.”
Lakes, which is now 8-5 in state quarterfinals games dating back to 1991, made another surge on MLS in the fourth quarter.
Forcing 22 turnovers in the game, the Lakers closed to within 52-46 with 1:57 to play on a three-pointer by freshman Isabelle Kline. But Lakes could get no closer than six points down the stretch.
Pankow powered her way to 10 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks to aid MLS. Junior forward Reese VanLue added nine points and eight rebounds, while junior guard Dayna Pembroke had nine points, five assists, four steals and three rebounds for the Cardinals.
Michigan Lutheran Seminary finished 6-of-7 as a team from three-point range (85.8 percent), canned 11-of-20 free throws (55 percent) and shot 20-for-41 from the floor overall (48.8 percent). The Cardinals also won the battle on the boards, 34-27.
“We shot it pretty well tonight. We moved the ball well to find the open shooter tonight and we hit some big shots,” said Coach Blaine. “I thought that Meghan was at her best tonight. She hit some big shots and I’m proud of her. This deep in the tournament, you always need more than one player to step up and have big games. I thought we had several players that came through with some clutch shots, big rebounds and we really pressured them defensively.”
Our Lady of the Lakes was held to 34.5 shooting from the floor (20-for-58), made only 3-of-7 free throws (42.9 percent) and fell in love with the deep threat but only converted 5-of-24 three-pointers (20.9 percent).
Kline scored 14 points with five rebounds to lead WOLL. Junior guard Catherine Weddle had nine points, junior guard Tiffany Senerius added eight points, and junior forward Kayla Sanders was held to nine points and four rebounds before fouling out with 4:24 to go. Freshman guard Macy Senerius scored five with seven assists, three steals and three rebounds for the Lakers.