Senior Mackenzie Shelton and the Brandywine Bobcats face a big challenge against Manchester Tuesday. (Leader photo/AMELIO RODRIGUEZ)
Senior Mackenzie Shelton and the Brandywine Bobcats face a big challenge against Manchester Tuesday. (Leader photo/AMELIO RODRIGUEZ)

Archived Story

Manchester provides big roadblock for ’Cats

Published 11:05am Sunday, March 10, 2013

Four years ago, the Brandywine girls basketball team made its second trip to the Final Four.

With a win Tuesday night against No. 3-ranked Manchester, the Bobcats can return to the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University for another shot at history.

The last trip to the Breslin wasn’t necessarily kind to Brandywine. The Bobcats were defeated by eventual state runner-up St. Ignace 64-35.

The only other time Brandywine reached the Final Four, the Bobcats also faced St. Ignace. That resulted in a 79-46 loss for Brandywine.

The No. 2-ranked Bobcats (24-0) won’t have to worry about seeing St. Ignace in 2013. It has dropped down to Class D.

But that doesn’t mean the road is any easier to the finals.

Brandywine will face its biggest roadblock yet in Jonesville Tuesday night in the Class C Quarterfinals.

Led by 6-foot-1 senior McKenna Erkfritz, Manchester (24-1) is looking to make history as well. The Flying Dutchmen won the school’s first regional title last Thursday with a 58-51 win over Adrian Madison.

Although their opponent will once again outsize the Bobcats, Brandywine coach Josh Hood said he thinks that experience could play a key in Tuesday’s contest.

“Our girls are pretty confident,” Hood said. “Even though we are a young team with three freshmen, they have a confidence about them. We have been here before so we do have some experience in that regard.

“But this is a big game, so both teams will be a little nervous at the beginning and that is to be expected.”

Besides Erkfritz, who averages 14.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game, the Flying Dutchmen have senior guard Taylor Manders. Manders averages 14.4 points per game, 4.5 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 3.2 assists.

Manders is a solid ball-handler, but it is doubtful that she and the rest of the Manchester team has seen the type of pressure the Bobcats are going to bring.

“Our defense since December has changed quite a bit,” Hood said following Thursday night’s win over Hartford. “The freshmen seem like they’re a lot more comfortable in it. To run our defensive style and what we do, it takes five girls working and then it takes the five coming off the bench doing the same thing. For the last several games we’ve done a really good job of working.

“When one girl isn’t working, our defense can really be exposed. Our rotation has been very good and we’re not fouling on traps. Early in the year we couldn’t play defense without fouling. We kept putting teams on the line. When you can play that fast and not put teams on the line, then you’re doing a good job.”

Brandywine will have to continue to stay away from fouls as Manchester makes a living at the free throw line.

The Flying Dutchmen are 319-of-490 at the line this season for just over 65 percent. By comparison, the Bobcats have only attempted 362 free throws, connecting on 211 of them for an average of 58 percent.

Like Brandywine, Manchester has been on a roll the past few years. Under the direction of coach Cori Kastel, the Flying Dutchmen have won back-to-back conference champions and three of the last four district championships.

With two very distinct styles of offense, Tuesday night’s winner could be the team that shoots the ball best.

While Manchester wants to go inside to Erkfritz and draw fouls, the Bobcats will once again rely on its perimeter shooting game.

Hood said that over the summer he and his staff recognized that they could no longer pound the ball inside as they had done the previous three seasons. So enlisting the help of friend and St. Joseph boys coach Greg Blomgren, the Bobcats adapted a style similar to what the Bears are doing.

The move has paid off. Brandywine is a much more balanced team than is has been in the past. There are now offensive threats spread all over the floor forcing opponents to “pick their poison.”

“We have to rely on pushing the tempo,” Hood said. “We are going to have to shoot the ball well from the perimeter and we have done that quite well for 24 games. At this time of year you are not going to make a lot of changes. You have to do what you have done all season long. We will give it our all for 32 minutes. We will be ready to play Tuesday and put it all on the line. If that’s good enough, we will move on to the Breslin.”

If the Bobcats do move on, it will face the winner of the Riverview Gabriel Richard and Flint Hamady quarterfinal at 1 p.m. Thursday. The last time the Bobcats were in East Lansing, Hamady won the state title with a double overtime victory over St. Ignace.

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