Gladiators hand Bucks second loss of the season with 26-point fourth quarterLEROY — Coming into Monday’s nonconference boys basketball contest against Traverse City St. Francis, Pine River had only lost one game all season with a loss to Mason County Central on Jan. 21. That loss total doubled on Monday as the Bucks (16-2, 12-0 Highland) were handed a 71-61 loss by the Gladiators (8-10, 5-9 Lake Michigan Conference). Pine River coach Brian Goodenow said while it was still disappointing to lose to the Gladiators, he’d rather have the Bucks test themselves against tougher teams and lose rather than just coasting through the schedule with easy victories, especially considering the fact the Bucks have a shot at an outright Highland Conference title today against Evart before beginning district play next week after a matchup with Beal City on Thursday. “We learn a lot more and grow a lot more by playing quality teams like (TC St. Francis) and losing than we do by winning by 30 against a lesser team,” he said. “The guys are disappointed and upset and I’m glad they are because they’re competitors. “They’ll be ready to go (today),” he continued. “The main goal all season is to get a conference title and we have a chance at that (today).” The Bucks were able to take a 17-14lead at the end of the first quarter after a back-and-forth opening quarter that would set the tone for the rest of the game. Pine River opened the second quarter with a 7-2 run to take a 24-16 lead with just under five minutes before halftime following a corner three-pointer from Mitchell McDonald, but the Gladiators would return the favor with a 6-2 run to pull within four points with 2:07 left in the quarter. With the Gladiators getting momentum back on their side, the Bucks closed out the half with a 7-5 run to take a 33-27 lead into halftime following a layup by Greg Park. TC St. Francis started the third quarter with a bang with a 7-0 run to take a 34-33 lead with 6:25 to go in the third after a trey from Noah Phillips, but the two sides would go on to trade baskets for the rest of the quarter to send the Bucks into the fourth quarter with a 46-45 lead. After battling to a 50-50 tie in the first two minutes of the fourth, the Bucks went on a 6-2 run to take a 56-52 lead with 4:42 left to play after an and-one score by Schroeder Vanderhoof. That lead didn’t last long, though, as the Gladiators stormed back with a 13-3 run to jump ahead 65-59 with 1:55 to play following a layup by Tanner Kenney. With their backs against the wall, the Bucks started to rally back with a breakaway layup by McDonald to pull the Bucks within four after his tipped pass opened up the fast-break opportunity, but the Bucks missed two free throws on the next possession and the Gladiators went a perfect six-for-six at the charity stripe down the stretch to secure the 71-61 victory. Goodenow said the biggest difference in the game came from the turnovers the Gladiators were able to force with their full-court press, with TC St. Francis only having one turnover and the Bucks recording nine. “It started to turn in the third quarter,” Goodenow said. “The press hadn’t bothered us all night but they got a couple quick turnovers on us there and they have some guys who can shoot the three. “The turnovers really were the difference,” he continued. “They really didn’t dominate us inside and I thought our guys held strong inside. It was just the turnovers that led to easy baskets for them.” Skyler Nelson led the Bucks with 19 points and four rebounds while McDonald had 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists and Lucas Harris had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. The Gladiators were led by Bryon Bullough, who had a game-high 25 points and hit three triples in the fourth quarter. Phillips added 20 points and Kenney recorded 13 for the Gladiators. While losing is an experience no team wants to have, Goodenow said Monday’s loss just serves as extra motivation for the Bucks as they try to clinch a league title tonight against the Wildcats in Evart. “We have enough seasoned guys that they’re not going to hang their heads and let this affect them (today),” he said. “Evart played us really tough last time, so our guys know they can’t afford to have a letdown.” TC ST. FRANCIS 71, PINE RIVER 61 PR 17 16 13 15 – 61 TC 14 13 18 26 – 71 PINE RIVER (16-2, 12-0 Highland) Greg Park 2 0-0 4, Brandon Hoaglund 1 0-0 2, Skyler Nelson 3(3) 4-6 19, Mitchell McDonald 3(2) 3-6 15, Lucas harris 6 2-3 14, Schroeder Vanderhoof 3 1-1 7.