A local rivalry made more intense by conference consequences calls for an exciting night of basketball, and that was just the case in the Marine City High School gym last night.
At the time of tipoff, the Marine City and St. Clair girls basketball teams each stood 3-0, leading the MAC-Gold. The next 32 minutes would determine who took sole possession of the No. 1 spot.
The Mariners came out strong and aggressive, just as they planned, and were able to jump out to a 21-14 lead at halftime.
“We came out very focused and very intense. I think we were pretty aggressive early, getting on loose balls and causing turnovers,” Mariners head coach Jeff Austin said. “That was the game plan going in: be the aggressor and attack the rim well and keep the tempo up.”
“It’s always tough to play there. They do a nice job with their student section and we kind of came out a little scared and timid and they got a pretty good lead on us,” St. Clair head coach Darren Pietrykowski said. “Once the girls settled down and started matching their physicality, we slowly chipped away but we had dug ourselves too big of a hole.”
Not only were the Saints trailing 32-21 as the fourth quarter began, but they were also severely understaffed.
Senior starter Ashlyn Zimmer suffered an ankle injury in the first half that left her on the bench in the second, and by the start of the fourth quarter, juniors Alexa Vickers and Audrey Schindler each carried four fouls.
“We were in extreme foul trouble…That’s a lot of our scoring punch,” Pietrykowski said. “[Erin] Seros kind of took the team on her back and tried to will us to victory…She did everything in her power to do it.”
Despite this, St. Clair still managed to outscore Marine City 15-9, narrowing the final deficit to 41-36. Seros posted a team-high 18 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter.
Austin credited his team’s aggressive play for the Saints’ foul trouble, however, the Mariners didn’t exactly capitalize on the opportunities it provided them.
“A lot of it was caused by the tempo. We’re used to it, that’s what we do. We can’t compete with anyone in the half-court game, especially St. Clair. They’re the biggest team we’re going to see all year,” Austin said. “But last night was a stressful fourth quarter…If we would’ve just made free throws, it wouldn’t have been that way.”
As a team, the Mariners shot 16-for-36 on the night, 7-for-17 in the final eight minutes. They made up for it with a well-balanced offensive attack, which was a focus in this week's practice after struggling to generate numerous scoring sources last week against Fraser, Austin said.
“I knew that wasn’t going to cut it against a quality team like St. Clair. We just tried to build their confidence. It wasn’t that other kids weren’t shooting, we just never made a three in that Fraser game,” he said. “I thought some other girls took it upon themselves to be a little more aggressive last night.”
Senior Olivia Volkman and junior Jade Blanchard led the team from the floor with 11 points apiece, including three 3-pointers for Volkman. Junior Josalyn Dietlin added nine points and 13 rebounds.
“We’re still trying to figure out who we are. We’re pretty young yet and it’ll come. Last night was a pretty big atmosphere for some of the newcomers on varsity,” Austin said.
Likewise, Pietrykowski said he’s confident in his team’s potential, saying the Saints have yet to play their best basketball. They’ll be tasked with Fraser who’s also 3-1 in the league Thursday night, but they’ll at least have home-court advantage – for only the third time this season.
“It’s always tough when you have the two toughest teams back-to-back with only one day of rest. Last night was not only physically draining, but emotionally draining,” Pietrykowski said, “so the girls will have to tough it out and protect our home court so we can take another shot at Marine City when they come here and fight for the league title.
"I’m extremely confident…We’re still right there competing for a title. The girls did get some confidence in the second half and they know they can beat Marine City if they can put it all together.”
The Saints will welcome the Mariners for a rematch in just a couple of weeks on Friday, Jan. 27.
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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