It was a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” kind of night for both Battle Creek and Lutheran High Northeast basketball teams at the Clayton and Vivian Andrews Activity Center on Thursday night.
While the Lutheran High teams held leads periodically throughout the first half in both games, Battle Creek bounced back in the second half both times, and the Braves took home a sweep over the Eagles.
Lutheran High led for almost all of the first seven minutes of the second quarter in the girls game, only to see Battle Creek open up a 20-point lead with more than five minutes left in the fourth quarter of a 56-34 final. In the boys game, the Eagles used an 11-0 run en route to a seven-point halftime lead, only to see the the Braves score the first 11 points of the second half, and the visitors held on from there 66-59.
Battle Creek boys coach Matt Rudloff characterized Thursday's win as the opening step on a difficult stretch heading into the Mid-State Conference tournament. Lutheran High was the first of four consecutive Battle Creek opponents with winning records, and three of them have been ranked at some point this season.
“Right now, I told the boys that we're in about a six-game test up until our conference tourney that we're going to see how well we do here,” Rudloff said. “We passed the first part of the test.”
The host Eagles pulled to within two points twice midway through the fourth quarter. First, senior Jaxson Kant fired a midrange jumper in front of a leaping Luke Stueve with 4 minutes, 49 seconds remaining. Stueve followed by drawing a foul and drilling both free throws on the next possession, but Lutheran High senior Brady Jackson responded with a basket of his own with 4:14 remaining to make it 54-52.
The final stand for the Braves started after Mason Mink found Payton Frederick open on the left side, and the junior took advantage with his fifth 3-pointer of the night and a 57-52 lead with 3:50 to go.
“That was a pretty big shot,” Frederick said. “It was inside-out, and coach always tells me if it's inside-out, I've got the green light to shoot it. It was a big shot to get the momentum back to us.”
Just over a minute later, Slate Kraft and Jackson traded baskets, but Lutheran High would be shut out for the next 2:15. That allowed Battle Creek to open up a 10-point lead with 25 seconds remaining after five straight points, including another basket from Kraft, who matched Frederick with a team-best 18 points plus seven rebounds in his first game since suffering a sprained ankle earlier in the week.
Stueve posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Dylan Mettler added 10 more points for the Braves, who finished 45.3% (24 of 53) from the field.
“I told the guys at halftime that we had to just settle down,” Rudloff said. “We missed so many bunnies. I'll bet you we left 10-12 points out there just at the rim. I said, 'Those will start falling. We just have to relax and play our game.' ”
The Braves actually needed two big-time stretches of play in the second half.
Battle Creek scored the first 11 points of the second half, starting with a layup by Frederick, who had a game-high 18 points, before a conventional 3-point play by Kraft. The Braves followed with six points in 30 seconds — Dylan Mettler finding Stueve for two, a Kraft steal and layup, and Mettler to Stueve again after a Reece Bode steal — to force a Lutheran High timeout with 4:58 left in the third quarter.
Frederick hit a 3-pointer about 80 seconds later, and Mettler assisted Kraft down low off an inbounds play to give the Braves a 46-37 lead with 2:14 on the clock.
“They used a little bit of soft pressure to get us out of rhythm offensively, turned it over a couple of times, and it was a dogfight from there,” Lutheran High coach Kenny Blank said.
Lutheran High wasn't done, scoring six of the final eight points in the third quarter to set up its biggest threat in the fourth. Tanner Koss found Trystan Scott open for a 3-pointer to cut the Battle Creek lead down to 52-48, setting up Kant's bucket that put the Eagles within two.
Ben Gebhardt matched Frederick and Kraft with 18 points to lead Lutheran High. Jackson finished with 13, and Scott hit 4 of 6 from 3-point range for 12 points. The Eagles shot 45.1% (23 of 51) from the field, buoyed by taking a 15-11 lead with 2:02 left in the first quarter and 33-23 with 35 seconds left in the first half.
“The boys came out with a lot of intensity, played hard, played smart, hit some shots and kept them a little bit rattled, I thought, in that first half,” Blank said.
IN THE GIRLS game, Battle Creek pulled away on the strength of a 33-13 scoring advantage in the second half.
That advantage was kick-started thanks to seven points in a span of 47 seconds of the third quarter, a burst that was the last of the fireworks in a 13-0 run that started with a minute left in the second quarter.
Paytyn Taake found Riley Seifert for a corner 3-pointer off an inbounds play to give the Bravettes what was the game's largest lead at 28-21 with 5:08 left in the third quarter. Makenna Taake then fed twin sister Madaline Taake on a fast break, and then Paytyn Taake cashed in a steal with a transition layup on the next possession for a 32-21 lead to force a Lutheran High timeout at the 4:21 mark.
“We told the girls that defense would win this game,” Battle Creek coach Seth Montag said. “I think it did. We turned it up in the second half. We got some steals, and we turned it into offense on the other end.”
The gap ballooned to 15 after Seifert had two assists on back-to-back possessions, first a bucket by Makenna Taake before a Bailey Hurlburt corner 3 for a 40-25 lead. Hurlburt added another 3 with more than five minutes left in the game for a 50-30 lead, and Battle Creek maintained control the rest of the contest.
Before the run, Lutheran High had enjoyed a 21-19 lead following a pass from Mia Wiederin to Chloe Spence at the high post. The roles were reversed earlier in the corner when Wiederin nailed a corner 3 that gave the Eagles a 15-12 edge, and another Wiederin 3 made it 19-16 to set up her assist to Spence for what turned out to be the team's final lead of the night.
“That was one of the better halves we've played all year as far as defensively and offensively. We were getting some good looks to the basket,” Lutheran High coach Mike Wiederin said. “We have not played four quarters of basketball yet. We could be really good if we played four quarters of basketball.
Battle Creek 12 11 19 14 — 56
Lutheran High 12 9 6 7 — 34
BATTLE CREEK (10-4): Makenna Taake 1 0-0 3; Madaline Taake 3 0-0 6; Paytyn Taake 4 0-0 8; BriAnna Zohner 4 0-0 8; Riley Seifert 6 2-2 15; Bailey Hurlburt 3 2-4 10; Lindsey Bolling 2 1-2 6. Totals: 23 5-8 56.
LUTHERAN HIGH NORTHEAST (5-9): Mia Furst 1 1-4 3; Chloe Spence 2 3-5 8; Becca Gebhardt 2 0-0 4; Mia Wiederin 3 3-8 11; Kendra Rosberg 0 2-2 2; Avery Koeppe 1 0-0 2; Leah Sugita 0 2-2 2; Hannah Fouts 1 0-0 2. Totals: 10 11-21 34.
Battle Creek 14 12 22 18 — 66
Lutheran High 15 18 10 16 — 59
BATTLE CREEK (10-2): Luke Stueve 4-9 4-6 12; Payton Frederick 6-18 1-4 18; Dylan Mettler 3-6 3-3 10; Reece Bode 1-2 1-2 3; Slate Kraft 8-13 2-2 18; Mason Mink 1-2 0-2 2; Baron Buckendahl 0-1 0-0 0; Chase Oltmanns 1-2 0-0 3. Totals: 24-53 11-19 66.
LUTHERAN HIGH NORTHEAST (8-5): Brady Jackson 5-11 2-2 13; Ben Gebhardt 7-15 2-3 18; Tanner Koss 1-3 0-0 2; Jaxson Kant 3-9 2-2 8; Trystan Scott 4-7 0-0 12; Cort McKeown 3-6 0-1 6. Totals: 23-51 6-8 59.