HARBOR BEACH — A year ago at this time, Harbor Beach’s Eli Kraft was an eager eighth-grader, hoping he’d have a shot at earning a position on this season’s varsity roster.
Now, a year later, the Harbor Beach point guard has helped put the Pirates one win away from another district crown.
Kraft scored a team-high 19 points, including 10 in the all-important first quarter, and set the tone with his ball handling and defense, sparking Harbor Beach to a hard-fought 57-46 victory over Ubly here Wednesday night in the Class C district semifinals.
The 16-5 Pirates, the defending district champions, advance to Friday’s championship game against 13-9 Unionville-Sebewaing Area — a winner in Wednesday’s other semifinal matchup.
Here Wednesday night, the Pirates started strong and never really looked back against their Greater Thumb East rivals. Kraft keyed Harbor Beach’s early flurry, knocking down a pair of three-pointers in a 17-7 first-quarter spurt.
Ubly coach Ken Pichla was impressed, for sure.
“The young Kraft boy, he’s a load to handle,” he said. “He’s very savvy at handling the basketball. He breaks people down. He’s a very nice player who can create for everyone. And he hit some shots tonight, too.”
The Pirates stretched their lead to 14 at one point in the third quarter. The Bearcats got to within eight with just over five minutes to play, but Harbor Beach put them away from the foul line, draining 10-of-14 over the final part of the fourth quarter.
“What’s the saying from last year, survive and move on? That’s kind of how we’re doing it again this year,” said Harbor Beach coach Ron Wruble. “The kids are playing hard, that’s the big thing. Hopefully, we can maintain it for a while.”
Wruble has watched Kraft go from a sometimes unsure freshman to confident court leader, running the Harbor Beach offense with plenty of guts and guile.
“Eli has a very high skill level, but the one other thing is that he’s as tough as nails,” he said. “Not only is he tough physically, but mentally. For a freshman, you don’t see that very often.
“Really, all of our young kids aren’t freshmen or sophomores any more — they are varsity players.”
Besides Kraft, Harbor Beach had Sean Sorenson with 13 points while Andrew Siemen notched 10.
The Pirates drained seven three-pointers, including five in the opening half when they took command.
“We told the boys before the game that all five of their (starters) can shoot it,” Pichla said. “We had to get up in their grill. On their home court, it seems like they shoot with so much more confidence.”
As important as the Pirates’ outside shooting was, it was their perimeter defense which pestered the Bearcats much of the game.
“There was a reason why we didn’t shoot well — their defense was pretty good,” Pichla said. “We didn’t have many wide open shots. They play very good defense. They are all on the same page and they all know where to recover to.”
Marshall Leipprandt led the Bearcats with 19 points, though even he struggled to find his shot. Josh White and Brandon Glaza chipped in six points apiece.
The Pirates stretched their lead to 31-19 at the half, though it was just 40-32 after three quarters. Harbor Beach opened the fourth period on a mini 7-2 spurt, good for a 47-34 edge with 6:30 left.
The Bearcats got to within eight twice, including 47-39 with 2:51 to play. But Kraft was 5-of-6 from the line in the fourth quarter while Siemen was 3-of-4.
“The boys never quit — they kept scraping,” Pichla said. “We tried to up-tempo the game a little bit, but every time we did it seemed like we’d have a defensive breakdown and gave up some easy hoops.”
Ubly finishes 17-5.
|Ubly’s Eric Booms takes a shot over Harbor Beach’s Aaron Ginther in the second half of the Pirates’ 57-46 win over the Bearcats in the Class C district semifinals Wednesday night.|
|Harbor Beach’s Eli Kraft drives the lane against Ubly’s Josh White.|