Liggett falls in state semis

Knights’ fourth quarter rally comes up short

By: Thomas Franz | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 19, 2014

 University Liggett freshman Nia Ahart dribbles up the floor against St. Ignace in the MHSAA Class C semifinal.

University Liggett freshman Nia Ahart dribbles up the floor against St. Ignace in the MHSAA Class C semifinal.

Photo by Thomas Franz

EAST LANSING — Despite holding St. Ignace to 18.8 percent shooting from the field, University Liggett could not make up for the Saints’ dominant rebounding effort as the Knights fell 34-30 in a MHSAA Class C state semifinal March 13 at the Breslin Center.

Lola Ristovski led Liggett with nine points, Nia Ahart added eight and Jessica Rotzoll scored five and grabbed 12 rebounds.

“Going against a team like St. Ignace, which is a great-shooting basketball team, I think the issue for us was blocking out. It’s really been a hindrance all year,” Liggett coach Omar Ahart said. “We’re a small team. We try to be as scrappy as we can, but I think blocking out was really what did us in.”

Liggett trailed 28-19 going into the fourth quarter, as St. Ignace finished the third on a 7-0 run. The Knights went on an 11-2 run to tie the game on an Ahart floater with 2:30 left in the game.

St. Ignace’s Emily Hinsman got a bucket and Margo Brown made two free throws to seal the game for St. Ignace, which outrebounded Liggett 59-36 overall and 28-4 on offensive rebounds.

“We are better than what we showed tonight, but you have to give a lot of credit to Liggett for that. I don’t want to say we just shot poorly, obviously we did, but they had a lot to do with that,” St. Ignace coach Dorene Ingalls said.

Both teams struggled to find their range in the early going, as St. Ignace led Liggett 5-2 after the first quarter. The two teams shot a combined 1-27 from the field to open the game, and Ristovski said that St. Ignace’s defense was difficult to get past.

“It was frustrating, at first. They just trap you. As soon as you got the ball in your hands, they would just trap you and make you throw the ball away. Just running and putting up dumb shots is what we did in the beginning,” Ristovski said.

Ristovski did have a hand in swinging momentum toward Liggett by stopping a 3-on-1 break for St. Ignace with a blocked shot. The play came with the Knights still trailing 28-24 with about five minutes left, but it was a crucial play to keep the Knights’ hopes alive.

“I think it was a really big play on our part. Sometimes when they’re coming down, just timing it is a really huge part,” Ristovski said. “I thought that was our turning point, where we could make a run.”

Playing without junior forward Haley Neuenfeldt, who injured her knee late in the year, took away a big part of Liggett’s inside presence for the postseason. The Knights were able to overcome that difference against bigger teams until the state semifinal, where, Ahart knew, St. Ignace would provide a challenge on the glass.

“I talked to a lot of my buddies who are high school coaches, and that was all the first thing they said was that they’re a really scrappy team, which they showed, and they’re really tough on the boards, and if you don’t block out you’re in for a long night, and that’s what happened,” Ahart said.

Liggett never substituted during the game, sticking with its starting five for the whole contest. Fatigue was never an issue, however, as evidenced by Liggett’s ability to rally in the fourth quarter, but Ahart said he’s looking forward to more development in the program so that he can go deeper into his bench next year.

“Having a young team, and a young coach ... because this is just my second year at Liggett, we’re still developing a program,” Ahart said. “Our first five really dig in. We’re young. We have 12 girls, and we’re just losing one senior. Once we get the development going on, we’ll probably be able to substitute in and out.”

Despite the loss, Ahart said that the team’s play in the postseason forced him and the Liggett coaching staff to begin preaching new expectations.

“I expected for us to play hard to at least get through the district and do better than last year,” Ahart said. “That’s what we preached. We wanted to do better than last year, and once we got to the regional finals and won that one, somebody has to win the state, and that’s what we preached was, why not us?”

Liggett closed the season with a 20-4 record. Guard Angelia Evangelista was the lone senior on this year’s team.