None of the girls on North Branch’s basketball team knew what it was like to defeat Imlay City in a varsity game.
Not even their coach, Tim Gormley, remembers beating the local rival when he played in a Broncos uniform against current Spartans head coach Bill Lengemann in the early 1990s.
But that changed last night when North Branch handed Imlay City its first league loss since Feb. 25, 2020.
“It’s been a rivalry for decades in all sports. Bill and I guarded each other in high school. He had a lot more size and was a better player than I was, I’ll admit, but it was a fun rivalry,” Gormley said. “It’s good to finally come out on top as far as girls basketball goes.”
The game didn’t start out too promising for the home team, however, as Imlay City bolted to a 10-3 lead in the first five minutes.
Trailing 10-5 to start the second quarter, North Branch sophomore Tracy Ludescher sparked what would become an 11-0 run, giving the Broncos a 16-10 lead with three minutes left in the half.
“I’ve been waiting for her to step up and take control and she did that tonight, so that was good to see strength in another guard,” Gormley said of Ludescher. “She’s been improving with her ball handling under pressure and double teams. She did well.”
Spartan senior Lily Lengemann (13 points) responded with back-to-back threes to tie it 18-18 with 15 seconds to go in the half, but rivaling senior Bailey Gormley sank a pair of free throws to give North Branch a 20-18 lead heading into the locker room.
“We stuck with our 1-2-2 zone [in the second half]. It was working for us. I didn’t want to change too much,” Gormley said. “I was just telling the girls to stay focused and stay on task, one quarter at a time, and get the job done, which they did.”
To say the Broncos’ zone was working is an understatement. They all but shut out the Spartans, who had been averaging 48 points per game, in the third quarter to take a 31-22 lead. And a key to that was holding junior Lexa Forti, who’s recorded several 20-plus-point games this season, to just nine.
“We worked so hard in practice for it and to actually see it happen is such a good feeling,” Bailey Gormley said. “It was rough the first couple of days [at practice this week] because we were pushing to try to stay in shape.
“Then we broke Imlay City down piece by piece. We knew all of their plays. I knew them like the back of my hand. We were very well prepared.”
Bailey Gormley led the Broncos with 23 points, while junior Catherine Welch came off the bench to add eight, including a perfect 6-for-6 performance from the charity stripe.
“I’ve been playing against them for four years and we haven’t beaten them, so to finally beat them my senior year and to have this team behind me is the best feeling ever,” Bailey Gormley said. “Our goals are league, district, and regional [titles] and even further, so this was our first goal – to win this because it gives us a look at the league [title].”
Imlay City, which has won the BWAC for the last three seasons, falls to 11-3 overall and 6-1 in conference play with the loss, while North Branch improves to 11-1, 7-0.
The Broncos finished fourth in the conference last season, but they did so with a very young team.
“The girls have worked hard. We didn’t have any seniors last year so it’s the same group. I think with them playing together the last two years, their chemistry is a lot stronger,” Tim Gormley said. “They’re more relaxed, which I think is just part of being one year older.”
Last night marked the start of a four-game homestand for the Broncos, with their next game on Tuesday, Jan. 24 against Ortonville Brandon. Imlay City will continue on the road against Almont on Friday, Jan. 27.
And the two teams, should they win the rest of their league games, will battle for a league championship in Imlay City on Feb. 17.
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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