Braves fall in clutch

GRAYLING Gladstone completed the season with a loss at the hands of a speedy Grayling squad Monday in the Class B Regional semifinal, falling to the Vikings in a tight, 73-68 game.

“I am so proud of the kids for how hard we battled,” said Gladstone coach Phil Griebel. “We could have won. We just made a couple of mistakes. We came down here and we battled them. We gave it everything we had.”

The two squads gave the packed Grayling gymnasium plenty of moments to cheer about, as the lead changes were frequent and the action heated.

From the opening minute of the game the Vikings (19-5) displayed their quickness with Scott Parkinson starting the scoring with a quick jump shot. The Grayling junior followed with a steal and after another shot, the Braves found themselves down 4-0 with 20 seconds elapsed on the clock.

Grayling’s smothering press forced several turnovers throughout the night as it has done throughout the season.

“We knew they were going to run the press and they are good at it,” Griebel said. “They get a lot of turnovers and they do it well. We did some good things against it but in the end that’s what really got us.”

As would happen for much of the game, Gladstone (10-12) fought back with strong drives to the lane and timely outside shooting.

In a steamy gymnasium, Braves’ senior Michael Cretens gave the Viking faithful and Grayling coach Rich Moffit a little more to sweat about.

“I’m very impressed with what they (Gladstone) did,” Moffit said. “That Cretens kid can really shoot. We knew that, and he shot it.”

Cretens drained a three pointer for the first Gladstone basket and the track meet was on.

After an 18-18 draw ending the first stanza, Grayling controlled the second period of play which ended in the largest lead of the game for either team, 36-28.

Again, the Braves proved a 232-mile trip to Crawford County would not subdue their fight.

“We got down eight there but then we scrapped and took the lead,” said Griebel. “These guys never quit. They started believing in what we were doing and it showed. They played with a lot of heart.”

Another Gladstone senior, Jared Vuksan helped the Braves battle back with six of his 10 points in the third quarter, ending with a slim 50-48 lead in favor of the Vikings.

The final stanza set up like it was supposed to for the Braves 1:00 left to go and Gladstone within reach at 70-68.

In one minute of game time however, Braves fans witnessed a couple of untimely turnovers followed by a few Viking foul shots and within a short amount of time, Gladstone went from a great underdog story to a great underdog story that fell short of another win.

Senior pride drove the Gladstone machine, with Cretens scoring 11 points and Blake Ballard hitting for 13. Vuksan added 10.

Max Mahoney and Jared Hunter helped from the junior class with eight points apiece.

Every team in the state of Michigan with the exception of four will end the season with a loss. This was little consolation to seniors’ Kyle Kleiman, Justin Pederson, Joey Godfrey, Cretens, Drew Griebel, Ballard, Travis Gagnon and Vuksan who wore the purple and white for their final time on Monday.

“It’s always hard at the end of the season no matter when you end it, it’s like you fall off a cliff,” coach Griebel said. “You’re with these guys for so long, and then all of a sudden it’s over. My son is one of them and there’s a lot of tears in there (the locker room) right now but these guys had a blast and I had so much fun doing it with them this season. It’s something to learn from in life – you don’t always win and some things are just meant to be.”

The Vikings were led by Scott Parkinson with 25 points and Justice Junttila with 15.

Grayling plays Cadillac in Friday’s Regional Final. Cadillac defeated Bay City John Glenn in the early game Monday, 62-39.