By Ben Murphy
Bullock Creek came into Tuesday’s regional semi-final game with one clear plan; don’t let Clare standout Lindsay Winter beat you. The third ranked Lady Lancers did just that, holding Winter to a season low 10 points and beat the fifth ranked Lady Pioneers 66-32 in the Carrollton class ‘B’ playoff game.
“I thought we played really well defensively,” B-C head coach Justin Freeland said. “We got great defensive performances by Madison Hill and Hannah Heldt on Winter. She’s a great player but we threw a box-and-one and all sorts of defenses at them and it worked.”
The Lancer’s defensive scheme worked all too well as far as Clare was concerned, and aside from an early and-one play by Winter that tied the game early on at 3-3, the school’s all-time leading scorer had a tough go of it, getting constant defensive pressure from the Lancers often in the form of double and even triple teams. Winter’s three point play were the only points for the Pioneers in the first as the Lancers led 11-3 after one.
“We were too one dimensional tonight and we didn’t get anybody to hit any shots,” Clare head coach Matt Rodenbos said. “Those nights happen. You certainly don’t want them to happen on a night that you’re playing the third ranked team in the state but it did.”
Heldt split a pair of free throws to give Bullock Creek a 14-3 to start the second but Clare followed that with what turned out to be its best surge of the game.
First, Clare got a put-back basket by Winter. Then, a free throw by Kenzie Humphrey, a put-back by Wezensky and another free throw by Mackenzie Thayer all to make it 14-9.
Rylie Kalina sank a three pointer to put B-C’s lead back to 17-9 and an Ellie Juengel free throw made it 18-9 before Olivia Cooper scored on a fast-break from a Winter pass to bring the score to 18-11.
Halee Nieman hit back-to-back threes for the Creek though, giving it a 24-11 lead and Heldt swiped a late steal and raced down the court for a fast-break hoop to make the score 26-11 at the half.
The Lancers opened up the second half with three quick buckets to extend their lead to 32-11, leading to a Clare timeout just a minute into the third.
Clare appeared to regroup well coming out of the huddle, scoring on its next two possessions, the first on a Wezensky lay-up and the second on a slice through the lane by Winter to make it 34-15 but Wezensky picked up her fourth foul of the night moments later.
Wezensky, when in the game had proved effective, getting several rebounds and open shots down low, but foul trouble forced her to the bench for good chunks of the night.
“For one reason or another, she’s been in foul trouble the last few games,” Rodenbo said. “Sometimes that happens, especially to post players. It just happened at a bad time for us.”
Heldt hit a three to put Bullock Creek up 38-15 and though Lexi Harton answered with a three ball for Clare, the Lancers continued their surge, leading 43-18 entering the fourth. Harton’s three was the only time Clare made a shot from beyond the arc, as it missed its other 14 attempts. To compound matters Clare made just 24 percent of its shots on the night while Bullock Creek hit 28 percent from three point land and 38 percent combined from the field.
“They shot the ball well and it just didn’t seem like anything would fall for us,” Rodenbo said.
Wezensky returned to the Clare lineup to score the first four points of the fourth for Clare and Winter added an and-one play midway through the frame but the damage was done as Clare still trailed 55-26.
Humphrey added a lay-in that made it 59-28, Morgan English hit a free throw and Tara Pummell scored a late put-back as the teams played to the 66-32 final.
From the time the Lancers topped John Glenn in their district championship on Feb. 28, they prepped for the showdown with Clare.
“The nice thing with this game is you have time to prepare after districts,” Freeland said. “There’s time to prepare, breakdown film and we talked about what they wanted to do and we took it away from them. They did an outstanding job, Clare is a very good team.”
This marks the second year in a row that the Pioneers had their season end at the hands of the Lancers, as Bullock Creek topped Clare in a one point thriller in quarterfinals a year ago.
“I’m proud of the girls,” Rodenbo said. The seniors have built something special here. It’s never going to be forgotten.”
Winter finished with 10 points to lead Clare, Wezensky had eight, Harton had four, Humphrey had three, English and Pummell both had two and Thayer had one.
Bullock Creek’s Nieman led all scorers with 24 points.
On Friday, Feb. 28 Clare topped Big Rapids 57-37 at home to win its third district championship in four seasons.
“I was so happy for the girls that they could win another district title,” Rodenbo said. “Big Rapids was a very scrappy team. They played hard and we went a little cold in the second quarter. We got it together in the third and started to pull away.”
Winter opened the first on fire, hitting three shots from behind the arc and Humphrey added four points to put Clare up 16-3 after the first.
The Lady Cardinals responded with a 15 point second quarter though, Clare could manage just seven, behind a three pointer by Alex Stark, a two by Winter Wezensky as they held to a 23-18 lead.
Big Rapids cut the Clare lead to three early in the third, though Winter took over the game in the frame, hitting a two point field, a three and then five free throws before hitting another two to help Clare lead 43-24 entering the fourth.
There, Winter hit six more free throws and added two more field goals with Amanda Yats and Wezensky both adding two pointers to give Clare the 57-37 winter.
Winter finished with 33 points, Humphrey had eight, Wezensky had seven, Stark netted six, Yats scored two and Cooper had one.
Clare finishes the season 22-2 overall and 14-0 in the Jack Pine Conference, its fourth straight undefeated league season.
“It’s been a great run the last three years,” Rodenbo who is set leave the program to take over the girls’ team at Mid-Michigan Community College said. “I will remember all the hard work that they put in and the class in which they presented themselves on and off the court. This is a great team but even better kids off the court.”