Gielczyk: Benzie Central Answers First Challenge

Staying undefeated heading into the Christmas break was no easy pickings for the Benzie Central girls basketball team when the Huskies renewed their long-standing rivalry with the Manistee Chippewas on Monday night in Manistee.

After bolting out of the gates averaging 65.75 points a game and an incredible margin of victory of 41 points, the Huskies found the going much more difficult against the Chippewas.

But that really should not come as any surprise.

Manistee (5-3) has dominated the series between the two schools in recent years. Even with a young team still looking for its identity after heavy graduation losses took away their top two scorers and rebounders from last year, the Chippewas are a dangerous team capable of giving anyone a battle.

The Chippewas had won 11 straight games over the Huskies (5-0) coming into Monday night. Benzie’s last win came in the 2012-13 season. Manistee appeared to be poised to make it 12 in a row after they opened an 11-point lead, 38-27 with 3:20 left in the third quarter.

Benzie would finish the game with a 22-7 run from that point on.

“‘We Believe’ has been their mantra all year long,” said coach Ross. “No matter what the scoreboard says, no matter if we’re ahead or behind, you just have to believe in what you’re doing.

“You have to believe in the amount of hours you put in the gym. I know it didn’t show in our layups or free throws (12-of-23) tonight, but these kids have put a lot of hours in the gym. So, you have to believe that at some point what you practice is going to show up on the floor.

“I think that’s what happened. We were down by 11, and we chipped away and chipped away. It wasn’t like it all happened at once. Then we were able to come back and win the game.”

Aleiya Ross gave the Huskies a lift when it was badly needed, striking for eight points in the last three minutes of the third quarter and pulling Benzie within three, 38-35 going into the fourth quarter.

Maile Church sank a pair of free throws to give the Huskies their first lead since the second quarter, 44-43 with just over two minutes left in the game. Benzie forced the Chippewas into a turnover in the backcourt, and Abby Bretzke scored on a putback for a 46-43 lead.

Benzie held the lead the rest of the way in earning a satisfying, if ugly win over solid Manistee team for a 5-0 start.

“This was a big monkey on our seniors’ back,” Benzie coach Sarah Ross said. “They haven’t beaten Manistee. I have two seniors that have been on varsity for four years, and another that has been on varsity for three years.

“It’s a battle. They are well-coached, and they always play hard. For whatever reason, we don’t seem to shoot well against them. We’ve been shooting 50 percent all year, and it wasn’t even close to that this game.

“Manistee plays great defense, and they execute well, so we knew they are going to come to play. For us to just get the win … it doesn’t have to be pretty.”

Both teams struggled with foul trouble all night, which affected the play on the floor. Things the Huskies had been able to do in earlier games, they weren’t able to do against the Chippewas.

With the officials calling a tight game, players normally accustomed to a more aggressive, and physical style had to back off and it affected both teams.

“But, we finally made the adjustments in the fourth quarter when we showed a little more patience on defense,” coach Ross said. “These seniors talk a lot in the summer about finishing the game.

“We had four really close games that we lost last year. So, they finally had a close game that they could finish. We’ve had a lot of big point spreads in games, so it’s hard to know how you’re going to react to the situation.”

Now, the Huskies know they can overcome a deficit in the second half and close the game out. It was just the kind of test they needed before taking off for the holidays.

It was an early Christmas present.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at ggielczyk@jackpine.net for story ideas. 

Categories: Girls Basketball