By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Senior Sarah Cullip and junior Kelley Wright learned a few things during their previous trips to Breslin Center that surely came to mind during Thursday’s Class D Semifinal against Climax-Scotts.
And with neither team able to find the back of the net, both had to call on those lessons to lift the top-ranked and undefeated Saints back to a familiar spot among those who will play on the final day of the season.
Wright made only 6 of 20 shots from the field, but connected on the go-ahead 3-pointer with 3:54 left in regulation. Cullip missed more than half the game because of foul trouble, but made two free throws with her team up only three and 25 seconds to play as the Saints held on for a 42-36 victory.
St. Ignace (26-0) will face three-time reigning champion Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes at 10 a.m. Saturday to try to earn a second MHSAA championship in three seasons. The Saints fell in last season’s Class C Semifinals, but won Class C in 2011 and finished runner-up in 2010.
“I think it was really crucial that I’d been here and played in this gym multiple times before, to know I have to calm down in a pressure situation,” said Cullip, who has been on the floor during all four of her team’s Breslin trips. “It’s just another free throw. It could be the first play of the game or the play that saves the game.”
The Saints have proven plenty this season that they can win big. Their first and only game closer than 10 points before Thursday came in the Regional Final, a 74-68 win over No. 6 Posen. St. Ignace has scored more than 80 points six times this season and more than 90 on three occasions.
But unranked Climax-Scotts (20-6) didn’t allow the Saints to get into their usual rhythm.
The Panthers finished with more field goals, 17-15, and the same number of rebounds. They actually shot better from the floor, 38 percent to 32. But Climax-Scotts got to the free throw line for only two attempts and had 20 turnovers. St. Ignace made 10 of 20 free throw tries and turned the ball over only 10 times.
The trip to Breslin was Climax-Scotts’ first to Finals weekend since finishing Class D runner-up in 1986.
“I can’t be prouder of my girls. They took on the number one ranked team in the state – number one from the get-go – and gave them probably the best game they’ve played all year,” Climax-Scotts coach Dana Perrin said. “I told the girls after the game they had nothing to hang their heads about, be sad about.”
St. Ignace coach Dorene Ingalls, meanwhile, recalled some of the tears in her players’ eyes after they fell during last season’s Class C Semifinals to eventual champion Morley-Stanwood – and how those likely paid off in extra resolve this time around.
Senior guard Brook Chambers could play only seven minutes Thursday because of an ankle sprain she re-aggravated during the Quarterfinal. Cullip, the team’s second-leading scorer and best defender, played only 15 minutes because of foul trouble.
“It obviously wasn’t the prettiest of games,” Ingalls said. “But at this state of the game, if you can win ugly, it’s a good thing."
Senior center Fallon Froberg led Climax-Scotts with 14 points and seven rebounds, but she had nearly half of her team’s 17 field goals. “Just them making chaos is the toughest thing,” Climax-Scotts senior guard Janae Langs said of the Saints’ defensive pressure.
Wright finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Freshman forward Abbey Ostman grabbed 13 rebounds for the Saints.
PHOTOS: (Top) St. Ignace three-year starter Kelley Wright pushes the ball up court during Thursday's Semifinal. (Middle) Wright defends Climax-Scotts' Destiny Froberg (10). (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)