Back to Breslin: Glen Lake books 4th trip in 7 years

Mar. 15—WEST BRANCH — Someone get Jason Bradford a lottery ticket, stat.

Down seven at halftime and with one of his star players saddled with three early fouls, Bradford told his team in the locker room that they'd be ahead four minutes into the third quarter.

Wouldn't you know it, four minutes in the Lakers took a 33-29 lead en route to a 57-49 Division 4 girls basketball quarterfinal victory Tuesday over St. Charles at Ogemaw Heights.

"We knew we had to take the lead in the first four minutes," said Lakers point guard Ruby Hogan, who scored a game-high 19 points to go with eight rebounds and four assists. "That is what our coach said, and Maddie (Bradford) was under a lot of stress having those fouls, and then coming in and hitting really critical shots was really important for us."

The No. 1-ranked Lakers (24-3) move on to the Final Four for the fourth time in seven years, with a 7:30 p.m. tip-off slated Thursday against Adrian Lenawee Christian (18-10), which beat Kalamazoo Hackett 49-36. No. 8 Baraga (22-5) plays Fowler (20-7) in the other semifinal, which starts at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

Baraga beat No. 3 Mackinaw City 40-36, leaving the Vikings and Lakers as the only top-10-ranked teams remaining. Fowler beat No. 2 Kingston 47-43 in the quarters and Glen Lake topped No. 4 Gaylord St. Mary for its regional title.

Bradford played less than two minutes of the first half, not scoring a single point. All 12 of her points came after halftime. She also had nine rebounds and three assists.

Sitting most of the first half wasn't easy, she said.

"Nerve-racking," Maddie Bradford said. "Definitely nerve-racking."

She was whistled for two fouls in the first 1:35, leaving the game until late in the second quarter. The third whistle came mere seconds after she came back into the contest.

"We saw all night the long passes, where they're kind of set up our offensive players in bad spots," Jason Bradford said. "So we have to clean that up."

The Lakers were within four at the end of one, with Olivia Mikowski hitting a shot at the buzzer to get within 18-14.

"The first half was kind of a blur," Hogan said. "Nothing was really going our way. We just weren't playing as a team. Everything was just kind of like overwhelming for us."

St. Charles led by as much as 12 in the second quarter, 28-16, before the Lakers closed on a 6-1 run. Eleanor Valkner tipped in a Jessie Pugh free-throw miss at the horn to cut the halftime lead to seven, 29-22, to keep the deficit manageable.

"Gemma (Lerchen), she took it to the hole," Maddie Bradford said. "Liv with rebounds. Everyone chipped in a little bit, though."

The Bulldogs also hit 3-pointers much better than Bradford saw on scouting tape, knocking down three in the first quarter and five in the game. Glen Lake only even tried one three, looking to use the size advantage of Bradford and Valkner inside.

Jason Bradford also told Maddie not to try to block shots in the second half, but she did anyway, swatting one in the first minute of the third that led to the start of an 11-0 run to begin the third quarter.

"My bad," the 6-foot senior center and Lake Superior State commit chuckled. "It's hard not to."

Bradford scored 10 of her 12 in the third quarter as the Lakers turned a seven-point deficit into an 11-point lead with a dominating quarter.

Lerchen and Mikowski ended with 10 points and five rebounds each. Valkner added four points and seven rebounds.

"The second half, we started getting rebounds and all the fast breaks," Maddie Bradford said. "Everything really just clicked."

Mikowski largely shut down St. Charles' Laina Harger in the second half. Harger scored eight of her team-high 14 in the first half and hit back-to-back 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to cut the Laker lead to five after it ballooned to as much as 11.

Glen Lake shuffled Bradford and Valkner in and out, with Valkner coming in for any defensive possession after a stoppage and Bradford coming back in for offense.

Maddie Bradford picked up her fourth with 1:09 left in the third, leading to a pair of Macie Czymbor free throws that cut the lead back to five; but the Lakers took control back on layups by Hogan, Pugh and Mikowski in the third's final minute.

Bradford fouled out with 1:42 left on a scramble for a loose ball and the Lakers up seven.

Hogan was 4-for-4 from the line in the final minute and Lerchen 2-for-2 to help seal the win from the line. Hogan made all nine of her shots from the stripe and the Lakers were 11-of-12 in the second half after missing six in the first 16 minutes.

"I think we needed that game for the Breslin," Hogan said. "We needed to struggle a little bit. I know I struggled in the first half. I needed that game to learn from my mistakes and have that to prepare us for the next two games."

Coincidentally, both the Lakers and Bulldogs last setback came on Jan. 17, almost two months ago. No. 5-ranked St. Charles (24-3) hadn't lost since a Jan. 17 eight-point home setback against Saginaw Swan Valley, the same day Glen Lake fell to Cadillac.

A city just southwest of Saginaw, St. Charles' other loss came to neighboring Hemlock, a 60-26 blowout eight days prior to the Swan Valley loss. Hemlock played in Tuesday's quarterfinals as well, topping Elk Rapids 52-37 Tuesday in Division 3 after previously ousting Traverse City St. Francis and Lake City.

Follow @Jamescook14 on Twitter.