A look at this week’s District pairings and a few words from area coaches
By Ken DeLaat, N3 Sports
Photos by Mike Gesler, Alexis Mercer, and Bobbie Cruzan
I love this time of year when every team gets a new shot at glory in an all inclusive postseason extravaganza known as Tournament Time (aka March Madness-high school version).
710 teams will play in the tournament and of those 710 teams only 4 will not end the season with a loss. Yes, 706 teams finish the season having fallen short on the court.
It’s a grueling grind getting through Districts, facing some of the best teams in the state in the Regionals and should a team make it to the Quarterfinals they are among the elite squads across the two peninsulas.
A win gets you a trip to Lansing and the Big Weekend when another pair of wins gets you every bragging right in the state.
N3 followed the Newaygo Girls team who battled their way to that final contest 2 years ago finally falling to a talented and red hot Portland team. It was a magical ride few teams get to experience.
Here’s hoping our local teams can catch a little magic. After all, as Coach Thomasma said, “everyone is 0-0 now.”
We caught up with our area coaches to get a bit of feedback on how they see the upcoming week.
Montague District- D2
Newaygo (6-15) vs. Fremont (8-14) 7pm
Whitehall (11-10) vs. Grant (14-7) 5:30pm
Newaygo/Fremont winner vs. Montague (15-7) 7pm
Favorites: Gotta be Grant and Montague. Grant has beat everyone in the District besides Montague (who beat them) So it has to be those two teams by far.
Success: Taking care of the basketball is the #1 priority for our team. If we do that, I think we can be competitive in this District. We're not super explosive on offense so not giving teams extra possessions will be a focus point. Rebounding is the other key. We have to do a better job of consistently rebounding the basketball.
Players: We don't really have a lot of postseason playing experience on our team besides Grace Painter (Riddering and Toth have a little bit) so we're going to need our new players ("old" and "young") to step up if we want to advance in this postseason. The team is looking forward to the challenge of playing a tough Fremont team on Monday and we've embraced that everyone is 0-0 now.
Montague and Grant are the top two seeds for a reason. They have been the most consistent teams in our District this season. However, I think that every team in our District is capable of beating each other on a given night. Grant has had many games where they put up a lot of points, and probably has the best individual offensive player in Ashbaugh. Most of us have played each other at least once this season and the games have been close. It’s a very evenly matched District and will come down to which team plays well each night next week. I don’t think anyone will have the luxury of playing poorly and still getting by with a win. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an upset or two that result in a different finals matchup at the end of the week than most expect.
Montague has to be the favorite. They are the number one seed for a reason. They have impressive wins over quality teams and have played teams like Hart closely. From there, it's anyone's game. We obviously have beat the remaining teams, but our inexperience in big games has hurt us this season. We need a good game to get through Whitehall and then will have to play extremely well to beat Montague. Julie Ashbaugh will need to continue to play at a high level and when Jayci Hance scores over 10 points, I like our chances. We have several others in our rotation that can get hot, and if we do, we are hard to beat.
Hart District- D3
Hesperia (1-21) vs. Shelby (9-13) 6pm
White Cloud (8-12) vs. Mason County Central (18-4) 5:30pm
Hesperia/Shelby winner vs. Hart (19-3)
WHITE CLOUD INDIANS
We have played all the teams in this district, and Hart and Mason County Central are the teams to beat. They are 1st and 2nd in West Michigan Conference-Rivers. Hart is 18-3 with their three losses coming to some of the best teams in the area. Mason County Central is 17-3 and two of those losses have come to Hart. We are matched up against Mason County Central on Wednesday. They have Wren Nelson who is a huge post presence for them, and then around her they have very capable shooters to knock down the outside shot. Hart is a shorter team, but they are very physical with great on ball defenders. Their Sophomore Addi Hovey is a very athletic basketball player. She can guard anyone on the court, and has one of the fastest first steps I have seen.
For us to take down this district we will have to play back to back great games. Currently we have four or five girls nursing various injuries, so we need to get healthy for starters. We will also need our defense to hold these teams to around 40 points or less which will be a challenge in itself because Hart averages 59 ppg, and MCC averages 47 ppg. We have had our moments this season where we show that we can hang tough with these types of teams for a few quarters, but we haven’t been able to do it for a full game. We need to show it for a full game to have a shot. We know what Jaden Gomez and Gaby Reeve bring most nights offensively, and we will need a few of our other girls to step up and score a few points to win.
Lakeview (7-15) vs. Holton (11-11) 7pm
Ravenna (9-13) vs. Morley Stanwood (14-5) 5:30pm
Lakeview/Holton winner vs. Kent City 7pm
HOLTON RED DEVILS
Obviously the favorite as it is most years would be Kent City. We have Lakeview first and the winner gets Kent City. I don’t look past any opponent and Lakeview has put together a few wins in the last few weeks and probably have more confidence then they have had in several years. We need to be ready for them. If we are lucky enough to get the win,then we would play Kent City.
If I'm being honest a lot would have to go our way, mixed in with some foul trouble from Bowers and Geers. Taking care of the ball would be the key for us to have a chance, something we have struggled with. We have been up and down all year as we are sitting at 11-11 this year. Kent City is an uphill battle that most teams in this area haven’t been able to climb in the past years. But if we can take care of the ball, shoot the best percentage on the year with a little foul trouble help, we might be able to make a game of it. Not totally out of the equation but we would definitely be the heavy, heavy underdog. We just would like to keep it as close as we can and be within some sort of reasonable range when the 4th starts to have a chance.
Manistee 58 Fremont 45
The Packers struggled in the first half on offense, while Manistee hit four 3-pointers and had multiple fast break baskets that led to a 12-5 advantage after one quarter and a 26-13 lead at halftime. Fremont came out to start the second half by quickly trimming the lead to 8 at 30-22, but Manistee went on a 10-0 run to build a 40-22 lead. Fremont went on a 7-2 run to end the third quarter, but still trailed 42-29 heading into the fourth. They again started strong, trimming the Chippewa lead to 7 at one point but Manistee held on down the stretch making 11 of 17 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
Fremont was led by Olivia Hansen's 15 points and Jessica Bennett had 13. Manistee' s Jayna Edmondson had a game-high 20 points and Mariah Bialik had 15. The Packers finish the regular season with an overall record of 8-14 and a 5-7 record in the WMC Lakes Division. Manistee finished with an overall record of 10-12 and also a 5-7 record in the conference. The two teams tied for fourth in conference play.
Coach Zerlaut -- "Credit Manistee for coming out so strong to start the game. We struggled and fell behind early. We played a much better second half. We were more aggressive on both ends of the floor and executed much better on offense. We had a couple really good runs to close the gap, but just couldn't get all the way back and they did a good job of making free throws late in the game."
Grant 69 Morley Stanwood 64
The visiting Tigers hit from the charity stripe when it counted, draining 9 of 10 fourth quarter tries to close out a tough conference game and a tough conference season.
The win elevated the Tigers into a 3 way ties for second place in the CSAA and gives them a spot in the top tier playoffs beginning next week.
Oakley Obenauf led the team in scoring with 19 followed by Zak Barnhart with 12 and Chase Geers with 11. Lucas Swanson added 9 with Blake Rider and Zaiden Phillips chipping in 8 each.
Newaygo 69 Chippewa Hills 50
In their final home game of the season the Lions gave their fans plenty to cheer about with a dominant victory over the Warriors and senior Bryce Decker said goodbye to his longtime home court by dropping a cool 35 points on the visitors.
CH kept it close in the first and were within 4 before Josiah Long connected from distance to make it 14-7 going into the second quarter. The Warriors struggled on offense and were unable to convert some early scoring opportunities, an issue they would not be able to shake much of the night. By intermission the Lions had built the lead to a dozen points. In the third Newaygo outscored Chip Hills 20-14 with Decker knocking down 16 of the 20 Lion points. The 4th saw the benches empty early and the teams play even to the buzzer giving the hosts the victory.
Long fired in an even dozen points and senior Remy Wells, who had a lot of signage love from the crowd in his final home appearance, knocked down 7. Decker also took 10 off the glass to go with the nearly three dozen points he put in the book.
The win capped a successful conference season for the Lions who finished in a 4 way tie for second place behind D2 #9 Big Rapids. After playing a makeup game with Hart (the #12 team in D2) on Saturday, Newaygo will take part in the 2 game Conference playoff this week before beginning District play in Comstock Park next week.
Grant 51 Newaygo 40
The Lions battled their way to a 22-15 lead at intermission but it turned out to be a big 3rd quarter for the Tigers as they entered the 4th holding a 32-29 edge. The hosts held back a couple of Lion ruins and secured the win.
Coach Delamater: “We had a decent 1st quarter, but a terrible 2nd. Jayci Hance and Julie Ashbaugh got in foul trouble and we struggled to get our composure. Credit to Newaygo for putting the pressure on and making a run. We made some adjustments at half and it led to a big run in the 3rd quarter to get the lead back. Hance and Ashbaugh led us down the stretch with 5 and 6 points respectively in the fourth quarter to seal the win for us.
Coach Thomasma: "Good first half for the girls. Had a scoring drought in the 3rd quarter that put us in too big of a hole. 4th quarter we just didn't get our hands on the rebounds and Grant did and that was the big story of the game. We have to do a better job on the glass to beat a team like Grant."
Ashbaugh scored 14 of her game high 17 points in the second half. Hance finished with 7 while Alexa Obenauf hit for 6 and Emma Thompson 5.
The Lions were led by Addison Goodin who took 10 off the glass to go with her team high 11 points. Naomi Schillman also banged home double figures finishing with 11 points and grabbing 3 steals and Grace Painter knocked down 6 points and added 6 boards to the stat sheet.
Grant will host Reed City on Thursday.
Reed City 35 White Cloud 18
Coach Wilk: “We shored up our rebounding tonight compared to last Friday. We led 5 to 3 at the end of the 1st quarter, and then we led at half 11 to 9. Our defensive rotations in the 1st half were probably the best we had all year. We held Malackanich to 3 first half points which was a huge win for us, but she really hurt us in the 2nd half scoring 12 more points. In the 3rd quarter they took fire for 18 points, and we only scored 2. They led 27 to 13 going into the 4th. The final score ended up being very comparable to last Friday 35-18.
“Leading the way for us tonight was Gaby Reeve with 8 points. Gracy Holmes earned her first start and added 4 points. Jorja Baker and Tanayah Klammer each added a three.”
Kent City 65 Morley Stanwood 49
Big Rapids 46 Central Montcalm 24
Lakeview 37 Chippewa Hills 28
Photos by Bobbie Cruzan
Shelby 64 White Cloud 51
The Cloud came up short in their visit to Shelby as the Tigers. After falling behind 11-5 after one the hosts held close enough to trail by just 4 points at intermission., but they could not rally enough to catch the Tigers in the second half and WC dropped their second in a row.
Coach Jones: “The year of the streaks! They just wanted it more than we did. We gave up too many offensive rebounds and second chance points.”
Three players shared the high mark for points as Kevin Strait, Mason Reuther, and Jared Watson each hit for 14 points. Noah Robinson finished with 6 points and Jayden Robinson added 3.
White Cloud (6-4, 11-8) will finish their regular season with a home game against North Muskegon on Thursday.
Manistee 59 Holton 39
The Chippewas broke open a close game in the second quarter and held off the Red DEvils for the win.
Brodrick Fialek knocked down 19 points for the Devs while Carter Brant dished out 6 assists, collected 4 boards and added 8 points. Chase Albright (6) and Jayce McMillan(5) also helped out on the glass.
Coach Swanson: “Manistee really shot the ball well in the second quarter tonight. They were able to put us in some tough spots and capitalized well. From there just not enough stop or offense to really close it up.”
Bragging rights, revenge matchups and a bit of pre tourney prep on hand this week
By Ken DeLaat, N3 Sports
The CSAA is holding a pre tournament matchup for conference teams. The 2 game playoff is divided into 4-team groups with those who finished 1-4 in the standings facing off as will the teams that ended in the 5-8 positions and the bottom 3. The winners will play each other Thursday as do the losers so that each team has a couple of tuneups before the State Tourney kicks off next week.
Locally we have three teams involved in the same bracket with Newaygo and Grant set to do battle Tuesday while Reed City and White Cloud meet just days after their regular season finale.
Today we offer a bit of a preview of these contests.
5th-8th place teams
Newaygo (6-14, 8th) at Grant (13-7, 5th) 7 pm
In their last meeting the Lions erased an 11 point halftime lead by the Tigers to enter the final frame up by 3 but were handicapped by having a series of players in foul trouble. Three Lion starters fouled out in the 4th while Ashbaugh caught fire and when the dust settled it was Grant who held off their visitors for the win.
The Tigers are coming off a 40 point beatdown delivered by Kent City. They have struggled against the better teams they have played and their lone victory over a team with a winning record was a strong showing against a surging Holton team last week. They have arguably the best player in the area in Ashbaugh and Pleune and Hance can both score in bunches and you cannot leave Obenauf or Thompson alone or they will hurt you.
The Lions have improved dramatically in many areas as the season has progressed.
Except in scoring consistency.
They have a tendency to go cold at inopportune times…like going scoreless for 4 ½ minutes after taking the lead in the first Grant game. Painter is a quality defensive baller who can knock it down from distance, Toth finds scoring opportunities down under and freshman Amaya Lathrop, who looks to be part of a bright future for Coach Thomasma’s team, has a sweet shot from beyond the arc. Goodin is a scrapper when it comes to playing the glass and Riddering’s ball handling has improved markedly this season.
They’re in Grant again so the Tigers have an edge there and having the best player on the court is always an advantage. But if the Lions can find a hot hand early their defense is going to keep them in the game and since it’s Grant/Newaygo anything can happen.
White Cloud (8-1, 7th) at Reed City (9-11, 6th) 7 pm
The Coyotes dropped 6 in a row to start the season and have since regrouped to go 9-5 the rest of the regular season. Malackanich and Hammong provide the bulk of the offense on most nights. They’re hosting Districts and with Big Rapids and Ludington in the mix I wouldn’t expect many Coyote fans to be buying tickets for the Regionals. Still this is a solid team who took care of business against the Cloud last Friday.
Speaking of offensive woes…
The Indians have averaged about 25 points a game since opening the season with 4 wins in a row and 4 times they failed to reach 20. That being said they are tenacious on defense but the inability to score early has put them in the position of having to play catchup and they struggle to find the hot hand that can get them back into the game. Reeve and Gomez tend to lead the scoring parade and Edwards has gotten hot now and then but lacking the consistent shooter who can bang in a few triples when needed has hurt them. They also have a tough District coming next week opening with the Mason County Central team that tore them up earlier this season. The Cloud’s chances rely on being able to shut down the Yotes enough to keep them in sight, keep them from dominating the glass and hope for a little spark from a few shooters down the stretch.
1st-4th place teams
Central Montcalm (10-10, 4th) at Big Rapids (18-2, 1st)
The Cardinals swept through the conference schedule including a 28 point win over the Hornets earlier this season
Central Montcalm has lost three in a row to 3 good teams. After Tuesday it will be 4 in a row to 4 good teams.
Morley Stanwood (14-4, 3rd) at Kent City (17-3 2nd)
The ‘Hawks have a quality team and have put together a solid season but the Eagles want a rematch with the Cardinals and they are not likely to be anything but laser focused for this one.
Lions to face Tigers Tuesday
Big Rapids 63 Newaygo 21
The Cardinals iced the CSAA title with their win over the Lions Friday night. The visitors' pressure defense presented some problems early but Newaygo was able to find some open shots that simply would not fall allowing BR to build a 17-5 lead after one. In the second period Freshman Maya Lathrop who has steadily improved as the season has progressed accounted for all 5 of the Lion points with a triple and a 2 pointer while the Cards poured in 24 points and hit halftime well out in front at 41-10.
Coach Thomasma: "Big Rapids came out and obviously played really well tonight. They hit shots and ran the floor. They are undefeated conference champions for a good reason.
"Overall, we competed and took care of the ball for the most part. We just didn't hit shots (especially early) and we just got too far behind. We'll regroup and get ready for next week and Districts the upcoming week."
Grace Painter led the Lions with 8 points and 5 rebounds while Lathrop also finished with 8 points. Addison Goodin was tough on the glass all night pulling down a team high 14 rebounds.
Newaygo (3-7, 6-14) will face Grant Tuesday in the Conference Playoffs before heading to Montague for District play beginning Monday February 27th.
Girls drop 4th in a row, Boys win streak ends at 4
Photos by Bobbie Cruzan
Reed City 35 White Cloud 17
The Cloud fell short for the 5th game in a row with a road loss to Reed City in their regular season finale.
Coach Wilk: “We just could not hit our shots, and we struggled to rebound against their height on the inside. We did a great job at breaking their press, and not turning over the ball. I thought that we passed the ball well around their zone, but at the end of the day if we can’t hit our shots it is hard to win the game.”
Gaby Reeve topped the WC scoring with 8 points and Jaden Gomez added 5.
White Cloud (4-6, 8-11) gets a shot at revenge Tuesday when they make another trip to Reed City for a rematch with the Coyotes in the first round of the conference playoffs. District play begins the following week in Hart.
Reed City 45 White Cloud 42
The Cloud came close to making it 5 in a row but the Coyotes were able to hold off the visitors rally enough to secure the conference win.
Coach Jones: “Down 9 with 3 minutes we made another comeback attempt and took a 41/40 lead with under 2 minutes to play, but just couldn't finish this time. That's three Friday's in a row we have fought our guts out but unlike the previous two,we just couldn't hold on to the lead.
“I asked the young men at the beginning of the season to play hard and bring some respect back to our school and program, I think they have done just that and then some. This last month of games has us battle tested and hungry to win. Should serve us well in the future.”
Noah Robinson led the way with 15 points, Jared Watson hit for 14 and Jayden Robinson added 8.
White Cloud (6-4,11-7) will be back home for two games next week with Shelby coming in Tuesday and North Muskegon arriving Thursday.
Team battles back but runs out of time.
Story and photos by Ken DeLaat
Big Rapids 79 Newaygo 74
Early on the Cards jumped out to a 9-4 lead but Caris Nelson banged in two in a row then off a steal he rifled a pass to Remy Wells and suddenly the Lions held the lead 10-9. Wells hit again and after a BR bucket Nelson snaked another pretty pass to Long who canned a triple to put Newaygo up 15-11. Grant Harkness matched a Cardinal three pointer but a three and a two put the Cards up one then Wells knocked down another for 2 and Mason Dunn finished the scoring for the period and the first ended with the visitors up 21-20.
The team exchanged blows to begin the second but a pair of threes from Dawson Dunn gave the Cards a 7 point spread. Harkness and Wells answered with distance shots to cut the lead to one. When the halftime buzzer sounded it was 44-40 Cards.
Nelson dropped a triple to begin the second half and make it a one point game but the momentum turned toward the Cardinals who outscored the Lions 20-6 with Decker accounting for the Newaygo points with a pair of threes.
Down 14 to the league leading and #10 D2 team would put a lot of teams on their heels. But this group of Lions aren't those teams. They still had some fight left and behind a spirited team effort they clawed their way back into the game and when Nelson launched a seemingly off balance shot from somewhere in the next county and it burned the nets, suddenly making it a 3 point, one possession game. The clock was down to 11 seconds however and the Lions were forced to send the Cards to the charity stripe in hopes of getting a few misses. Those misses didn’t come and despite putting a scare into the high flying Cardinals, Newaygo fell just a bit short.
From this writer’s seat it seemed as though the Lions just ran out of time. The momentum had shifted and there was a raucous home crowd behind the surging team, and they seemed to have the Cards on their heels but in the end, they simply didn't have enough clock to get the job done.
Decker led a balanced scoring attack with 19 points. Nelson canned 3 from beyond the arc and finished with 17 while Long knifed through the defense for 8 of his 15 points and added a pair of threes. Wells counted 9 including 7 key points in the first half and Grant Harkness connected twice from distance and finished with 8 points.
Things don’t get any easier for Newaygo (6-3, 11-7) as they will travel to Hart Wednesday to face another state ranked team, the undefeated Pirates from the WMC.
Fremont 30 Whitehall 21
The Packers battled it out in Viking territory and emerged with their third straight win in conference play. The teams struggled on offense early on as the first quarter ended with the Packers down 3-2. The scoring continued to be scarce in the second period and when halftime hit the hosts held a 7-4 edge with all of the Packer points coming off the hands of Olivia Hansen
The third saw the Pack fight back and work the game into a 12 all tie entering the final frame. That’s when Fremont found some hot hands, outscoring the Vikes 18-9 and securing the win.
Coach Zerlaut: "Our defense and rebounding in the first half kept us in the game. We got 19 shots and had 9 offensive rebounds, but we just couldn't put it in the basket. I was pleased with our girls' perseverance to keep battling on each possession, despite that frustration. It wasn't pretty tonight, but we found a way to win."
Lily VandenBerg knocked down 6 points during that 4th quarter run, finishing with 8 on the night to go with her 7 boards. Mia Clemence scored 7 points, Jessica Bennett added 6 and Hansen added to her first half offensive heroics with an 11 rebound game.
Fremont (5-6, 8-13) will wrap up conference play with their regular season finale in Manistee next Friday
Holton 49 North Muskegon 38
Coming off a tough loss to Grant that snapped a 4 game win streak the Devils came out hot behind Abbie Fowler’s 9 points that helped Holton run up an early 16-4 lead before a pair of late Norse buckets helped end the period at 17-8.
Coach Jordan:” We were creating turnovers off our press and taking great care of the ball. We did give up two late baskets in the quarter which I felt gave them some momentum going into the second quarter. They took that momentum and got it to 28-20 at half. We had 19 turnovers on the night and 10 of them were in the second quarter. It just wasn't a good quarter for us. North Muskegon kept chipping away and got it to 36-34 at the end of 3. Credit to them, they adjusted to our press and the turnovers we were getting in the first half weren't as frequent. We now were in a game where the other team had all of the momentum at home on senior night. But we found a way, it was good to see us buckle down in the 4th and end the game on a 13-2 run. I've been telling the girls all season basketball is a game of runs and momentum .. we were able to regain the momentum and go on a run when we needed it most...our defense stepped up when it needed to and we created 21 steals on the night.”
Abbie Fowler had another great statistical night again with 20 points, 5 steals and 5 assists while Courtney Boes dropped 13 points, pulled down 6 boards and grabbed 5 steals
Aubrey Goyings led the Devs on the glass with 10 rebounds.
Hoton (6-5, 11-9) will look to keep the momentum going when they visit Manistee on Tuesday.
Ravenna 27 White Cloud 25
Coach Wilk: Tough loss tonight. I felt like we did a lot of things right to put us in position to win this one, but in the end we just missed too many shots.
"In the first quarter our defense was perfect. We held Ravenna to 0 points and we put up 7 to take the lead. In the 2nd quarter the script was flipped because Ravenna held us to 0 points and they scored 7 points. At halftime the score was 7-7. In the third quarter both teams found a rhythm and we managed to score 10 points, and Ravenna put up 13 of their own to take a lead into the 4th quarter. In the 4th quarter we traded buckets/free throws, but we could not regain the lead. Ravenna ended up with a 3 point win. Gaby Reeve led us with 9 points.
"In the 4th quarter alone we missed six free throws, so that plays a huge factor in the outcome of the game. We also struggled to rebound the ball against their height advantage in the paint. With us being a shorter team our rebounding has to be a total team effort, and I think we left a few boards out there tonight. This was a much better performance compared to our last game, and we will continue to work on improving for the next game."
White Cloud (4-5, 8-10) will travel to Reed City on Friday.