Pine River girls claim district championship

LEROY — After falling in district play last year to McBain 54-50, the Pine River girls basketball team wanted this season’s district championship to end differently.

And it did.

Friday, the Bucks claimed a 64-35 victory over the Morley Stanwood Mohawks to earn a Class C district championship.

“We played really well as a team,” Kierra Justin said. “We definitely picked it up in the second half.”

Justin led the Bucks with 20 points, while Julie Justin had 17 and Logan Powell 13.

Marissa Frye scored eight to lead the Mohawks.

The first quarter started with both teams trading baskets at opposite ends of the floor. Selma Barnett made a fast-break layup as time expired to give the Bucks a 14-12 lead entering the second quarter.

“We came out strong and made shots,” Mohawks head coach Shane Frye said. “We went cold for a little while and couldn’t quite get over the hump.”

Pine River carried that momentum into the second quarter, with Logan Powell scoring five straight points to key a 12-1 Bucks run that set the tone for the rest of the game. The Bucks led 27-15 at halftime.

“We did a better job on the boards after the first quarter,” Bucks coach Shawn Ruppert said. “Our defense stepped up as well. Our subs played great for us.”

Kierra Justin scored the first points of the second half. The Mohawks couldn’t solve the riddle of Pine River’s inside-out game. Kierra Justin controlled the post while Powell and Julie Justin knocked down 3-pointers.

“You try to take one (Justin) away and the other one gets you,” Frye said. “We knew it was going to be an uphill battle. We tried different things, but just couldn’t come up with the right combinations to make it work for us tonight.”

Mohawk senior Hannah Cornell rolled an ankle while defending Julie Justin on the perimeter and was in noticeable pain. Cornell was able to stay in the game and knocked down a 3-point basket on the next possession. She scored five points in the third quarter as the Mohawks faced a 50-27 deficit to start the fourth.

“Our second half start was huge,” Ruppert said. “We shot the ball real well.”

Pine River moved on to face Montabella in the regional semifinal game on Tuesday at Beal City. If the Bucks won, they'll play Shelby or Hemlock on Thursday for the regional title.

“We’re accustomed to playing like we did today,” Ruppert said. “The girls expected to be where we are right now.”

Julie Justin scored 20 points for the Bucks on March 4 in a 43-34 Class C district semifinal win over Lakeview.