ESCANABA - The St. Ignace Saints continued their march through the post-season Tuesday night as they rolled past the Ishpeming Hematites 66-30 in an MHSAA Class C girls' regional basketball semifinal.
St. Ignace, employing its usual full-court pressure defense, led 33-19 at halftime and extended its cushion to 53-25 after the third quarter.
The victory enables the top-ranked Saints (20-0) to return to the Escanaba High School gym for Thursday's title game at 7 p.m. to face L'Anse (19-3), which eliminated Norway 65-54 in Tuesday's earlier semifinal.
Ishpeming’s Jessica Spencer, right, drives past St. Ignace’s Morgan LaVake during an MHSAA Class C regional semifinal game on Tuesday in Escanaba. The Saints topped the Hematites to advance to Thursday’s regional final. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Keith Shelton)
Ishpeming (16-7) scored first in the third quarter, trimming its deficit to 33-21 on a steal and layup by junior forward Jessica Spencer with three minutes, 12 seconds left in the period.
The Saints responded with 13 unanswered points, gaining an insurmountable 46-21 advantage on a 19-foot jump shot from the left wing by sophomore guard Abbey Ostman.
"I thought we did good in the second half," said senior guard-forward Kelley Wright, who led the Saints with 16 points and six assists. "We started good, then we started slowing down. Being one of the captains, I have to keep the girls fired up and remind them we're playing for charities as well. We want to keep them entertained and hopefully make other people want to donate to these charities."
St. Ignace 66, Ishpeming 30
Ishpeming 6 13 6 5 - 30
St. Ignace 20 13 20 13 - 66
Ishpeming - Penhale 3, Allen 2, Skytta 2, Engler 3, Spencer 16, Croley 4. FT: 13; Fouled out: None.
St. Ignace - Edelman 2, Ostman 8, LaVake 5, Wright 16, Belleville 2, Brown 7, Hinsman 14, Will 2. Sarah Smith 10. FT: 4-8; F: 17; Fouled out: None; 3-point field goals: Wright, Brown.
The Saints broke out of the gates quickly, racing to a 16-0 lead within 4 1/2 minutes, with junior center Sarah Smith ending that run on a set shot from the lane.
"We played with a lot of energy, but we had quite a few unforced turnovers," said St. Ignace coach Dorene Ingalls. "We were trying to run some new plays that we're still learningand instead of passing the ball around them, we were throwing it through them. I think we executed and rebounded better in the second half, although we're still not where we need to be. It's a work in progress."
The Hematites finally got on the board on a layup by junior forward Kaylie Engler with 2:48 left in the opening frame.
"They (Saints) are an excellent basketball team," said Ishpeming coach Tom Graves. "They instill that excellence in basketball in all their classes. They got us out of our comfort zone and the kids got rattled. After the game, we told the kids 'let's learn from this. During the summer, let's work on getting ourselves better.'"
Ishpeming trimmed its deficit to 33-19 on Spencer's five-foot set shot 40 seconds before halftime, but was unable to get any closer than 12 points.
"There's no question they wore us down," said Graves. "We rotated eight players through the tournament. We knew they were going to come at us in waves and the way they played was tough to combat. They were able to quell any run by us, which is what good teams do. We're very pleased with our season. When you go 16-7, it's a very good season. Only, we need to find a way to take the next step. We're extremely proud of the girls. Our two seniors (Courtney Allen and Gabby Croley) gave their heart and soul to our program. We're going to miss them."
Senior guard-forward Emily Hinsman added 14 points and four assists for the Saints. Smith finished with 10.
St. Ignace committed 28 turnovers.
Spencer finished with 16 points for the Hematites, who had 25 miscues.
"She's a very good player and Ishpeming is a good team," said Wright. "They were fast and aggressive."
The Saints now must focus on Thursday's match-up with L'Anse.
"They're quick and like to run the fast break," said Ingalls. "We'll need to clean up a few things. We need to cut down on turnovers."