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Ludington falls to Negaunee in girls regional final, but still ‘one of best days’ for coach

Orioles’ girls basketball team loses 52-35 in the Division 2 regional title game at Petoskey to finish 19-8 on season.

Photos by Sarah Laird for CatchMark

The first six minutes of Wednesday night’s Division 2 regional final at Petoskey High School looked just like Ludington girls basketball: Playing stingy team defense, forcing turnovers, and sharing the basketball on offense.

Those things resulted in Ludington’s early seven-point lead over a one-loss Negaunee squad.

From that point on, Negaunee flipped a switch by turning on the full-court pressure defense, hitting the boards with intensity, and excuting at a different level en route to a 52-35 victory over Ludington.

“After the fast start, Negaunee amped it up in the full court,” Ludington coach Warren Stowe said. “We had trouble all night long getting the ball in. They’re very physical and we had trouble with that. (We had) more issues with the physicality than speed.”

After making a memorable run through the state tournament, Ludington sees a strong season end with a 19-8 record.

Negaunee (25-1) advances to next Tuesday’s 7 p.m. state quarterfinal at Gladwin, where the Miners will face Flint Powers Catholic (23-3), a 62-59 regional final winner over Freeland.

Wednesday’s Ludington vs. Negaunee game was a rematch from a regional final two years ago, when the Orioles edged the Miners, 34-31, en route to making a run to the state semifinals at the Breslin Center

Ludington junior Elianna Jeruzal opened the contest with a 3-pointer and the Orioles’ lead grew to 10-3 with just under three minutes left in the opening quarter.

With 1:59 left in the first, Negaunee’s Theresa Anderson made two free throws and the Miners embarked on a 10-0 run to end the quarter with a 13-10 advantage.

The second quarter was tightly contested. A 3-pointer by Ludington senior Emma McKinley with about a minute left in the half pulled the Orioles within two, but they went into the locker room trailing 26-22.

In this file photo, Ludington coach Warren Stowe instructs his team in a timeout during a game against Fremont Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Fremont, Mich. (Scott DeCamp | CatchMark)

“In the first half, Negaunee dominated the glass,” Stowe said. “Between getting the ball in and giving up offensive rebounds, we dug ourselves a pretty deep hole and probably should have been down more than (four) points going into halftime.”

Negaunee extended the lead in the third quarter with more of the same: Full-court pressure defense, offensive rebounding, and offensive execution.

Ludington pulled within 34-29 on a big corner 3 by sophomore Madelyn Kenyon with 3:38 left in the third, but Negaunee closed the quarter with an 8-0 run for a 42-29 lead entering the fourth.

That was as close as the Orioles got the rest of the game.

“Against the team that runs as many sets both in the half-court and on the baseline as Negaunee, you have to be able to guard actions and not plays,” Stowe said. “We again had trouble with back screens and cross screens all night long. When you add that all you, you have a (17-point) loss.”

In this file photo, Ludington’s Elianna Jeruzal poses for a portrait during CatchMark SportsNet Girls Basketball Media Day on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022, at CatchMark Technologies in Whitehall, Mich. (Kara Raeth | CatchMark)

Jeruzal hit two 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 11 points for Ludington. Juniors Peyton Welch and Jordyn Anderson added five points apiece for the Orioles, while senior Rylee Stone scored four.

Ludington struggled at the free-throw line, as the Orioles finished 3-for-12 on the night.

Balanced Negaunee was paced by junior Aubrey Johnson and senior Ella Mason with 10 points apiece. Freshman Keira Waterman had eight points and Anderson seven for the Miners, who did not make a 3-pointer but finished 16-for-21 at the free-throw line.

Ludington was 6-6 in its first dozen games this season before regrouping and winning 13 of its next 14 entering Wednesday’s regional final. The only loss during that stretch of 14 games was a 42-38 defeat at Fremont.

Ludington played West Michigan Conference Lakes Division champion Fremont close in two games and finished with a 10-2 divisional record. Ludington beat a 17-win Hart team in the district semifinals and 19-win Clare squad in the reigonal semifinals.

Stowe takes away many great memories from the season.

“I’m extremely proud of this group. I don’t think many people would’ve thought that we would be playing in a regional final,” he said. “They stayed together, played for each other, and never quit.

“That senior class is leaving quite a legacy and a foundation that’s built off hard work, dedication, and all the other things we talk about at Ludington. I told them today was one of the best days I’ve had and the outcome of the game doesn’t change that.”

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

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