Baskets proved to be hard to come by in Thursday’s girls basketball encounter between host Highland Milford and rival White Lake Lakeland.
But hundreds of stuffed animals found there way down onto the Milford court after Brynne Gustafson’s basket with 6:32 left in the first quarter in the second annual Teddy Bear Toss.
After an officials timeout, the bears were quickly cleaned up and while the final tally remains unknown, the bears will be distributed by the players to Mott Children’s Hospital over the holiday break.
Meanwhile, the scoreboard read a lopsided: Milford 30, Lakeland 14.
After scoring eight straight points to end a cold shooting first half which gave Milford a 13-4 lead, the Mavericks came out smoking in the third quarter hitting 6-of-7 shots from the floor while outscoring the Eagles 14-7 to take a 27-11 advantage.
“We had a couple of games in the third quarter where we kind of came out flat and we wanted to focus,” said Milford’s 5-foot-8 junior guard Mallory Barrett, who finished with a game-high 12 points to go along with four steals. “And obviously these are our rivals, so we wanted to come out and kind of show them what we can do, and show that we’re not going to take it easy if we have a small lead. So I think that was kind of our focus.”
Gustafson, a 5-10 senior forward, finished with eight points and nine rebounds as the Mavericks improved to 3-1 overall.
“We’d been blanked twice in the third quarter,” Milford coach David Browne said. “The girls kind of started to take that personally. It was a big, kind of rallying cry not even the night before the game. They wanted to win the third quarter. We picked up a little momentum before the half, came out and got a couple of good looks and we hit them.”
Lakeland’s top shooter, junior guard Molly Stec, sat out most of the first half after picking up three fouls.
The Eagles went stone-cold from the floor hitting just 2-of-24 shots and the frustration grew as the Lakeland bench was assessed a technical foul allowing Milford point-guard Hannah Paulczak to make 3-of-4 free throws.
“We did not make shots and they made shots,” Lakeland coach Mike Head said. “I thought there were a couple of cheap calls on our leader (Stec). That hurt us immensely. When we don’t have her on the court and we’re not making shots … but even at halftime we were still O.K. It was 13-4 and we held held to two baskets, but we just came out too flat in the beginning of the third quarter. We couldn’t make a shot and that third quarter kind of created that buffer where we were struggling to score to begin with offensively.”
The halftime agenda was clear, according to Barrett.
“We wanted to step it up and play some good help defense, focus on the team effort part on defense,” the junior guard said. “We were just trying to focus like it was 0-0. Don’t let the lead get to you.”
Stec finished with a team-high eight points, but the 0-4 Eagles simply could not get anything going offensive shooting 5-of-39 from the floor (12.8 percent) and 5-of-10 from the free throw line.
Add 19 turnovers to the mix and it was Murphy’s Law for Lakeland.
“I think one of those things were still challenged by is where we don’t even have good positioning for rebounds,” Head said. “Maybe a little too quick (shooting) sometimes. We need to learn what’s an effective shot. I thought we had some good open looks and didn’t knock down those shots. I had some kids that are the best shooters just didn’t hit them tonight. It happens.”
The Eagles other top scoring threat, junior guard Lauren Castellon, struggled during the first half missing her first 12 shots.
“She has good days and bad days and that’s just what happens to shooters sometimes,” Head said.
But the big winner on the night was Mott’s Children’s Hospital.
“This was coach Head’s idea actually last year,” Browne said. “We ran it at Lakeland and we just wanted to keep it going. It’s a nice way, around this time of year, for our kids do something and take it to Mott Children’s Hospital, do like a team event.”
The Teddy Bear Toss also created a buzz among the players and fans from both schools.
“It’s a big event,” Browne said. “They look forward to it. They hype it in school. Our middle schools were involved. The one middle school raised over 130 of the (stuffed) animals thrown out there tonight. It’s trickled down to some of our lower levels and hopefully it keeps growing.”