Gielczyk: Ludington Reflects on Surprising Run
Looking back on the season, Ludington boys basketball coach Thad Shank and the players recognized that the Orioles had underachieved during the regular season.
The Orioles had a real tough time consistently putting the ball in the basket, and as result they finished 9-10 for the season with a three-game losing streak and a four-game losing streak.
After running off a six-game winning streak from Jan. 8-Feb. 1, the Orioles hit another slump and lost four in a row before defeating Mason County Central on Feb. 19.
Ludington ended the regular season with a 55-53 loss to Muskegon Orchard View to finish 5-5 in the Lakes 8 Activities Conference.
It wasn’t surprising that people had their doubts whether the Orioles could win a district title, let alone reach the Final Four for the second time in the last three seasons.
“We thought we were getting pretty good shots during the year, we just had a heck of a time being consistent at making shots,” Shank said. “I think that makes you recognize a little bit that instead of getting good shots, you better get great shots.
“I thought from an offensive standpoint we played a lot better together and got the shots we wanted through that tournament run. It made a big difference for us.”
A 56-44 victory over Reed City in the opening game of the MHSAA Division 2 district tournament got things started for the Orioles, and they would roll on to four more wins over Cadillac, Standish-Sterling, Escanaba and Alma before Hudsonville Unity Christian ended it, 69-30 in the state semifinals.
Shank said that winning their third straight district title might have taken some of the pressure off the players. It gave them a sense of accomplishment to bring home a trophy.
“We just kept playing better as time went on,” Shank added. “The regional game against Standish (Sterling Central) was one of our better games of the year.
“Then I felt that the Escanaba game the following Thursday (a 49-32 victory) was by far the best game of the year we played, and we one upped it that Alma game (65-32 win) and played about as well as we possibly could, I thought.”
Its win over Escanaba gave the Orioles their second regional title in the last three seasons, and sent them to their seventh trip to the state semifinals.
Shank admitted that the possibility of making the state semifinals wasn’t on his radar when the Orioles opened district tournament play.
“We always feel playing in northern Michigan that you have an opportunity if you play well at the right time to win a district and regional title,” Shank said.
“That was the kids’ goal from the beginning of the season. But, we hadn’t played particularly well up until that stretch run.”
Shank admitted that everything pretty much went through senior Josh Laman on the offensive end even tough he wasn’t the Orioles’ point guard.
Although he drew double teams a good share of the time, Laman averaged 15.8 points a game this season.
“I think the fact he’s a pretty unselfish kid and was able to do a good job kind of facilitating in our half-court offense in the middle of the floor and getting kids shots that they could make was pretty important down the stretch,” Shank added.
A Division 2 Second Team All-State selection in the AP poll, after being an Honorable Mention last year, Laman ended his prep career with 1,187 points to move past Pete Tillotson on the school’s all-time scoring list and finish as the school’s second highest scorer in history.
But, it wasn’t a one-man show.
Nate Lange really caught on fire at the end of the season, Shank said, and played some of the best basketball of his career at Ludington.
He especially got hot from behind the 3-point arc, where the Orioles had been particularly deficient throughout the regular season.
Brayden Porter and Riley Calhoun also suddenly started knocking down the perimeter shot with more regularity, which drove the Orioles’ big run.
Since the Orioles had a pretty good inside game coming in, the ability to knock down the perimeter shots and stretch the defense really allowed their offense to play at another level down the stretch.
Six seniors graduate off this year’s team in Laman, Lange, Garrett Meeker, Sam Bandstra, Jayden Hathaway and Evan McKinley. Three … Laman, Meeker and Lange … were members of the Oriole squad that played in the state championship game two years ago.
But, the cupboard will not be bare next year with four of the top eight players from this season returning, and Shank had a freshman up on varsity who is just getting acclimated to playing at that level.
Jake Plamondon was the Orioles’ post player this season as a sophomore, and played lot of minutes. Porter and Calhoun return as well.
“I think we’ve blessed at Ludington over the years with great guard play,” Shank said. “I think we’ve got to kind of improve our ability to handle the ball on the perimeter, and become more consistent at making the 3-point shot.
“That will be a big emphasis over the summer months to prepare for next year. The bar has been set pretty high over these last three years. That’s a good thing.
“People get excited about what you’re doing and your program when you get the opportunities we’ve had winning district and regional championships, and getting the opportunity to go to the Breslin Center.”
Ludington proved this year that the playoffs are, indeed, a new season and a fresh start for teams.
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 email@example.com for story ideas.