Fast, furious Saints prevail

GLADSTONE – The Gladstone Braves’ zone stymied St. Ignace Wednesday night, so the Saints figured they had better outrun the Gladstone defense.

Helped by a flurry of Braves turnovers, the Saints transition game worked enough times to lift them to a 59-52 non-conference victory.

Both teams ran the ball down each other’s throats, generating lots of possessions, but the Braves speed was hindered by 24 turnovers, many of which St. Ignace converted into fast break baskets. The Saints weren’t exactly clean either on the offensive end, but they made enough plays in the clutch to come out with the victory.

“I don’t know how many turnovers they had, but it really doesn’t matter because we had 24, 15 at halftime and nine in the second half, but it felt like 20 because at crucial points we just turned the ball over,” said Gladstone head coach Dale Hongisto. “A lot of it was just decision making. We just didn’t get it done on the offensive end.”

Hongisto credited half of his team’s miscues to the athletic Saints’ man-to-man defense, while lamenting the unforced turnovers.

“We’re decent ball handlers,” he said. “Better than what we showed tonight. We had great performances from a lot of guys, and you have to credit St. Ignace. It was about 50/50. They forced some and we had some unforced ones.”

The Saints, who generally favor an inside game, took more shots then they wanted from the perimeter and weren’t very effective from beyond the arc.

“We didn’t shoot very good. Their zone hurt us a little bit and kept us from attacking,” said Saints head coach Doug Ingalls. “We were stuck 35 feet from the basket way too much to be efficient.

“But we competed on the glass just enough to win.”

Gage Kreski, the Saints’ sensational sophomore, had a quiet first half with only four points as he was hounded in the paint by the Braves box-and-one.

“Everyone is worried about him and he draws a lot of attention,” said Ingalls of Kreski, who averages upwards of 20 points per game. “Especially when he doesn’t make an outside shot at all – he missed all of his outside shots tonight, it’s tough on him, because he wants to get in and attack. When he’s not making it, they can play the drive more. He was in there a lot of times with three guys on him, and he made some good decisions with kickouts, and we missed a lot of them. Their defense did a good job of not giving us too many easy ones tonight.”

Kreski made amends in the second half, as he got ahead of the defense multiple times and received the ball on the fast break for a couple uncontested buckets under the basket. He finished with a game-high 21 points.

Brandon Oja scored 15 points, Tyler Snyder added 13 and David LaVake chipped in 11.

“They got too many transition buckets,” said Hongisto. “Too many of this or that usually causes a loss.”

Gladstone had its share of transition opportunities as well, but didn’t capitalize on as many. Andrew Olesak had a handful of good looks under the basket but the ball just didn’t fall for him Wednesday night.

“That will happen, Andrew just didn’t convert on some of those tonight,” said Hongisto. “We’ve had that trouble this year where we’ve had good looks in-close, but it’s not like they’re easy shots because they’re being defended, and there’s some big kids in there. But, they’re shots that we can make, so we’ll keep working on it and continue to improve.

Tyler Wells led the Braves with 16 points, David Dykowski scored 13 and Jared Hunter added nine before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter. Max Mahoney pulled down 10 rebounds and Jalen Stenson had nine boards.

Gladstone had a final opportunity with under a minute to go, down by four. Kreski was sent to the line for a 1-and-1 and missed the front end, but the Saints grabbed the rebound, Snyder was fouled right away and made both of his. Down at the other end, Jake Peterson was fouled from beyond the arc but made just one of three free throws, and Kreski sealed it with two more foul shots.

“We rebounded the ball pretty darn well defensively, but at a key moment or two we gave up a couple big ones,” Hongisto said.

Ingalls, a former Gladstone Brave, will gladly take the win over his alma mater, but said he also took a moment to wish the Braves luck for their game Friday night at Escanaba, verifying that there’s still a hint of purple underneath the black and gold of St. Ignace.

“I told all the guys good luck Friday night because I know they have Escanaba,” said Ingalls. “So I’ll be looking for that score right away and I hope they rebound with a good game Friday night.

“It’s kind of weird,” Ingalls said of coaching against the Braves. “Before the game, people were coming over to me and all of a sudden there was four minutes left in the JV game and I had to get to the locker room. It was pretty cool.”

Gladstone, which won the jayvee game 48-45, will actually play at Escanaba twice in the next two weeks. After Friday night, Gladstone will open district play at Escanaba on March 3.

“I told the guys win, lose or draw Friday night, we have to show that we’re ready to compete, because we can’t have them with a whole boatload of confidence when the district tournament comes,” Hongisto said.