Gielczyk: Bear Lake Sets Sights on Elusive League Title

Now, the pressure of maintaining an unbeaten season is off. Or eases a bit, anyway.

Bear Lake suffered its first loss of the season, 72-63 on the road Monday night in a non-conference game against Suttons .

Rebounding nicely two nights later, the Lakers moved to 9-1 on the season by knocking off Walkerville in another conference road trip.

The Lakers were naturally disappointed to see their undefeated streak ended, they also realize that their focus needs to be on the Western Michigan D League, where after Wednesday’s win at Walkerville and Baldwin’s loss at Manistee Catholic now have a strange hold on first place.

“None of us ever talked about going undefeated,” Bear Lake coach Garret Waller said. “Our main goal has been to win the conference. Losing this game (Suttons Bay) doesn’t hurt us one bit.

“We’re still undefeated in the conference. We’ve got another big conference game on Wednesday, and I’m still down one of my senior starters. I need somebody to step up and fill his shoes until we get him back.

“Like I told the kids, we’re going to dissect this film a little bit, and see some of things we did wrong, think about it for about three seconds, then move on and focus on the Walkerville game on Wednesday. We have to get over (the loss) quick.”

Getting past the Wildcats, who are no pushovers at 4-2 in the league which ties them with Pentwater for third place and are 6-3 overall, is key for the Lakers. If they can, it sets them up nicely for a road trip to Baldwin on Wednesday, Jan. 31.

The Lakers will still be missing senior starter, Travis Johnson for the Walkerville game.

“He’s a little more height for us,” said Waller. “We’re not a huge team, by any means. He’s actually the tallest guy on our team at 6-foot-3 maybe. He’s got long arms, and he’s been there as a senior.”

Johnson gives the Lakers a highly effective inside presence, but also has the ability to make shots from behind the 3-point line and presents a clear and present threat that gives defenses fits.

Noah Sutton, a reserve, became ill just before the Christmas break, and Waller has been battling a case of nerves with both of them out.

Down to just six healthy players for the Pentwater game, Waller was concerned about the Lakers falling into foul trouble.

Waller was glad to get Pentwater out of the way.

“Pentwater is scrappy and strong, and gets after it,” Waller added. “I knew it was going to be a walk in the park. Our guys had to dig deep after halftime (when the Lakers had a 28-23 lead with a quick 4-0 burst at the end of the second quarter).

“It gets (the team) amped up a little bit when they can get a few steals and put the ball in the hole a few times in a row. But, we can’t have a letdown in the second quarter. I always preach the style that we play, I want 20 (points) a quarter. I don’t think any team can beat us if we score 80 points.”

Baldwin is breathing down the Lakers’ neck right now, just two games off the pace in the conference with a 5-2 mark in the WMD and 6-3 in all games. The Lakers defeated Baldwin, 82-70 in their first meeting in the regular season opener on Dec.7.

The Lakers are counting on being back to full strength by the time they play Baldwin. Sutton returned to the lineup against the Norsemen, and Waller expects Johnson to be healthy for the Baldwin game. Waller leans a lot on Johnson, Kaiden Hejl, Trey Gilbert and Gary McBride to lead the Lakers.

“We have a bullseye on our back playing every team now,” Waller said. “These guys know it. I stress it before every game that they have to come out and bring it, because every team is going to bring their best at us. We’re at the top, and everyone wants to bring us down.

“The guys did a good job of handling that against Pentwater. I told them go out and have fun. I was pretty pleased. Aside from the second quarter and the turnovers (25 for the game), I think they played a good game.”

Most of the guys on the roster also run cross country, and the Lakers are loaded with high energy and don’t get tired easily. The Lakers’ condition gives them the ability to wear down their opponents in the second half.

Bear Lake is chasing its first league title since 2008, when Waller was coaching the junior varsity, and is just finishing its first run through the schedule.

As Waller says, the Lakers haven’t achieved anything yet. They need to keep taking care of business, and keep getting better, if they want to capture the ultimate prize.

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 for story ideas. 

Categories: Boys Basketball