Braves pull off upset
KINGSFORD – For a second straight season, Kingsford has been upset in a district basketball opener.
After rallying from an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit, the Flivvers could not hold off Gladstone in a frantic final two minutes and fell 56-53 in a Class B District 64 semifinal Monday evening.
“This is getting repetitive on the one and done, and its not what we want to see happen,” Flivvers head coach Dan Olkkonen said.
The Flivvers (14-6), behind 45-37 with a little more than five minutes remaining, caught and moved ahead of the Braves (9-11) with 1:50 to go when Aidan Wienke sank a jumper to make it 50-49 Flivvers.
Wienke, the game’s leading scorer with 22 points, had 12 in the fourth.
“I knew they were going to keep running at us,” Gladstone head coach Phil Griebel said of the Flivvers late comeback. “They did that a bunch of times during the game What was different this time is all season it seems like we wilted in those situations, and tonight we didn’t.”
Gladstone answered right back with a long jumper from Jared Hunter. And when Caleb Harrington then put the Flivvers back up a point by connecting on a runner down the lane, the Braves responded again, this time with a toe-on-the-line two by Blake Ballard, who led Gladstone with 16 points.
The Flivvers had a final try to tie or lead. Coming out of a timeout down two, with 14.7 seconds to play, Kingsford wound up firing for a three from the corner, but missed. Ballard collected the rebound, got fouled and sank both free throws on the other end.
Harrington was fouled on a three attempt with two seconds left. He made just the first attempt. On the third, he tried to bang the ball off the glass, hoping for a long rebound, but the attempt caught the rim and there was just not enough time to collect a board and fire a potential tying three.
“We actually got the lead and they go down hit a 17 footer,” Olkkonen said. “We go back make a shot and they hit a 18 footer. They had guys step up big at the end. They were run by their horses.”
Ballard was one of three Braves to reach double figures, with Jared Vuksan scoring 13, Hunter putting in 11 and Michael Cretens adding 10.
Gladstone missed just two of its 15 free-throw attempts in the game.
Kingsford, which torched the Braves with six first-half triples in a 62-57 win last month, hit for just 5-of-29 from beyond the arc in Monday’s game.
“When you look at the threes, we have good shooters,” Olkkonen said. “Anybody can say whatever about the way that situation went. Yes, we would have liked to have gotten more inside shots and layup opportunities, but it is what it is. We’re not going to look back and blame a gameplan or anyone. We just didn’t hit a couple of key shots.”
Dalton Allen finished with 13 points for Kingsford. Harrington was held under his season average with just 12.
“Last time they shot us out of the gym and they beat us by five,” said Griebel, whose squad went with the same 1-3-1 zone defense used in last month’s meeting. “We were hoping they weren’t going to shoot as good tonight, and they didn’t, at least not as good as last time.
“Our heart, effort and determination to get it done was the difference tonight. They just wanted it probably more than they have all year and it showed.”
Barely a bucket separated the two teams in the first half. Gladstone opened a five-point edge midway through the third frame after a trey by Cretens, but Kingsford scored the next seven to grab a 31-29 advantage, its largest of the game.
Cretens beat the buzzer from deep at the end of three to cap another Gladstone push that saw the Braves take a five-point lead into the fourth.
Gladstone then pounded inside with Vuksan to run up its lead. Vuksan had the first seven points of the final quarter for Gladstone.
Kingsford went with a similar approach to get back in it, as Wienke came up with a couple of three-point plays in the paint.
Gladstone looked poised to run the final couple of minutes with a little more breathing room but Danny Harrington nailed a big triple to make it a three-point game with 3:31 to play.
“With the crew we got, it hurts when you get down to the end,” Olkkonen said. “These seniors, they are going to go off and be great young men and be successful. They’re going to do a lot of great things because they are good-hearted guys and they care.
“We did it together. We came out here and did it together. We know we worked hard to prepare together. It’s just one of those things where we are sitting here saying our goodbyes instead of getting ready for a practice tomorrow.”
Gladstone will host Wednesday’s district final, squaring off against Menominee, which brushed aside Escanaba 61-46 in Monday’s late game.
“We’re hosting the district championship,” Griebel said. “It feels good. Now we just have to take care of business.”