No. 9 Central Montcalm weathers storm vs. Frankenmuth to win first-ever regional game
MT. MORRIS — Even if you haven’t, act like you’ve been there before.
Despite the fact that they were playing in their first-ever regional game — and, by contrast, playing against a Frankenmuth program with 28 district titles on its resume — the No. 9-ranked Central Montcalm Hornets looked like the more experienced team when they weathered a second-half storm, rolling to a 56-34 win.
“For being an undefeated team, this is their first time through this,” Frankenmuth coach Tom Keller said of the Hornets. “That’s a very good team. That right there is the senior experience, because we made that run in the third quarter and got it down to six, and we had a lot of momentum. Coach did a good job of calling timeout, and their seniors came out and made just three or four plays, right in a row.”
Central Montcalm (23-0) moves on to Wednesday’s regional final against No. 2 Freeland (21-2), a 60-46 winner over No. 5 Corunna (20-3) on Monday.
It’ll be a rematch of sorts … one years in the making.
“The funny thing is, when I started with my seniors in fourth grade, the team they used to play a lot at Morey Courts (in Mt. Pleasant), in championship games was Freeland. It was the seniors they have too. So it’s kind of coming full-circle here,” Central Montcalm coach Rob Putnam said. “They’re a great team. They’ve got tradition. Kind of for this mid-Michigan area, they’re the ones that have set the standard. … But our girls will be ready. I think it’ll be one heck of a ballgame on Wednesday night. It’s going to be 110 percent by both teams, and it’ll be a fun game to watch: It’ll be up and down the floor, 3s will be going up left and right. I think it’ll be a great match-up. If you want to be recognized with the great teams, you’ve gotta play them, and you’ve gotta beat them. We’re up to the challenge, and it’ll be fun to play them.”
While the Falcons have been through the regional wringer numerous times, it was the first for the Hornets, and Putnam worried about nerves being a factor.
“I was. I thought we were less nervous tonight than we were on Friday. I did, because we’ve never been in this situation,” the coach said. “But the girls came out, and they were fired up, ready to go. I didn’t think it effected them like it did Friday.”
The Hornets jumped out to an 8-2 run, and led 17-8 after one quarter, nailing four first-quarter 3-pointers.
“That’s what we’re used to. That’s how we played all season. We’d jump out, boom, right off the bat. I knew that was a good sign for us. Libby hit that 3, and we’d kind of been struggling shooting the 3 in districts. We’re usually a good 3-point shooting team, and when she hit that first one, I knew it was probably going to be a good night. When she hits the first one, everybody else kind of flows off from that,” Putnam said. “This year, those four seniors are just so focused. It’s like they feed off of each other.”
The open outside shots were somewhat by design, as the Eagles (14-8) were trying to keep the Hornets out of the lane.
“We did a great job in the first half — we said we wanted to muck it up, wanted to keep the paint as clogged up and congested as possible, and that’s why in the first half they hit some shots against us, because we were almost daring them to shoot those. In the second half, we did a better job of getting on their shooters, but then they started getting us on those back-cuts,” Keller said. “I think they’re probably a better team than we are this year, but I think we gutted it out, gritted it out for three quarters, at least.”
Trailing 29-16 at the half, the Eagles came out of halftime on fire, led by two fast-break layups by Emma Kerkau, and a pair of 3-pointers by Kelynn Kujat, cutting the 13-point halftime deficit down to just six points, 32-26.
Central Montcalm answered with a layup by Putnam and five free throws to pump the lead right back up to double digits, then closed out the game by hitting eight of 11 free throws in the fourth “I knew they’d have a run in them. We talked about that at halftime: We gotta combat their run, get some stops on it. … I think that’s what shows our resilience: We just keep not giving in. quarter,” Putnam said of weathering the third-quarter storm. “The big thing that I told the girls was that we needed to take their intensity, and put it to our favor. We just weren’t setting the screens and waiting for them in our offense, and then when we did, we had four possessions in a row, where we got wide-open layups. That was the big thing. We get in habits, sometimes, where we can just run around and do it, and get layups. Well, when you’re playing good teams, at this time of year, you’ve gotta set the good screens, you gotta wait for the screens, and you gotta use them, or you’re not going to be open. Finally, we thought ‘Oh, yeah, we did do that …’ and we got several layups, and jump shots, so it worked out.”
The Hornets held Frankenmuth to just four points in the fourth quarter, as well.
Hannah Putnam finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, Bailey Vissman had 13 points, and Kiara Wernette had 11. Kujat finished with 16 points to lead Frankenmuth.
“It was a hard-fought win. This time of year — I keep telling the girls — everybody’s playing for their seniors, their last game,” Putnam said. “You’re going to get everybody’s best, night-in, and night-out. Film will show you some things, but the heart that kids play with at this time of year, you just can’t dictate that in practice.”
The Eagles had five seniors playing in their last games.
“Last year, we were .500 which, for Frankenmuth, isn’t where we want it, so this is a step back in the right direction,” Keller said. “We’re losing five seniors, but we return a really strong junior core for next season, so we’re optimistic that this is sort of a step back toward where we want to be.”