EVART — Height made right for the Lake City girls on Friday.
Lake City held off a second-half rally to secure a hard-fought 43-35 victory over host Evart and repeat as Division 3 district champions and the contributions of 6-foot-4 junior post Alie Bisballe and 6-foot-1 junior wing Mackenzie Bisballe at both ends of the floor played a pivotal role in the outcome.
Mackenzie and Alie, battling an Evart defense designed specifically to try and stop them, combined to score 40 of the Trojans’ 43 points and grab 27 rebounds as Lake City (23-1) reversed its only loss of the season to the Wildcats and earned a berth in Tuesday’s regional semifinals at Houghton Lake.
Evart coach Carrie Kunkle credited the Bisballe cousins and the entire Lake City team after the contest.
“We had a strategy for stopping Mackenzie and Alie and we did our best to make it work but those two girls are not just tall but they’re exceptional players,” Kunkle said.
“We guarded the lane pretty well and had weak-side help inside but they were just tough to stop tonight. I’m still very proud of our girls and our effort. We never hung our heads; we played hard and came back in the third quarter. Give Lake City credit for making their baskets when they needed to in the fourth quarter.”
Kunkle said she and her coaches and the Evart girls are cheering now for Lake City to go a long way in the postseason.
Lake City coach Bill Tisron was very happy to leave the Evart gym with a win in hand this time around.
“Evart’s a good, well-coached team and they’ve improved since the first time we played them here in December when they beat us,” he said.
“We’ve improved too. We’re playing good basketball right now. I thought we did a great job defensively tonight of keeping them from driving the lane and limiting them to one shot. Our goal was to keep them to under 40 points and we did that.”
Lake City owned an 8-2 lead after a first quarter dominated by defense at both ends. The Trojans pushed their early lead to 18-4 with 2:29 left in the opening half after Mackenzie successfully drove the lane.
Evart responded from that point, though, outscoring Lake City 20-6 over the next 10 minutes as senior Addy Gray started heating up, scoring 11 of her 12 points during the run as the Wildcats trimmed the lead to just 24-21 after three quarters.
Alie Bisballe scored six straight points at the outset of the final period, however, with a three-point play followed by a 3-pointer to push the lead back to nine points.
Evart pulled to within seven points following a Brooklyn Decker 3-pointer with 2:11 left but could get no closer.
“We knew this would be a tough one tonight,” a jubilant Mackenzie said amidst the post-game celebration after finishing with 23 points and 17 rebounds.
“It feels good to win districts again and to do it on this floor makes it even nicer. They came back on us in the third quarter like we expected but we kept our heads and never lost our intensity. They made us work for it.”
Lake City senior Emma Nickerson, who scored two and grabbed seven rebounds while providing a physical presence inside, admitted to feeling nervous before the game.
“There was so much riding on this game and we knew Evart was really good,” she said.
Nickerson added that it felt “really amazing” to be a senior on the first Lake City team in 47 years to capture both a conference championship and a district championship in the same season.
“I’m so happy to get to do this with this group of seniors and this group of girls,” she said. “Now we want to keep it going.”
Addy Gray, the emotion of the moment evident in her features, expressed disappointment with the loss but also congratulated Lake City.
“This hurts but it’s also been a great season for us, one of the best we’ve had in a long time,” she added. “It’s been a long time since a team from Evart had 19 wins. We had a real close bond between us and enjoyed playing with each other. It was just a fun year.”
Alie, fighting a crowd each time she handled the ball, earned 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Tisron also credited Nickerson for her contributions down low and noted the hustling and defensive energy supplied by Rylee Cohoon, Tarrin Miller and Hayleigh VanderTuig.
Gray capped her outstanding four-year hardwood career with 12 points and five rebounds.
Addy surpassed 1,000 points scoring this year and finishes as Evart’s all-time leader in 3-pointers. Freshman Kyrah Gray added nine points with four assists and two steals.
Decker hit for seven points. Emma Dyer tallied four points with three steals and Brianna Cass grabbed four rebounds. Evart ended with a 19-4 mark.
Lake City (23-1) faces Beaverton (11-13) on Tuesday in the regional semifinal at 5:30 p.m. at Houghton Lake.
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