By Mike Gesler
Photos by Mike Gesler and Alexis Mercer
Grant 60 Newaygo 51
If you have ever been to a Grant Newaygo boys basketball game, then tonight’s game would have been a surreal experience for you. Normally the stands surrounding the court are packed with fans and students. It is a loud, boisterous affair as the Tigers and the Lions play for bragging rights even if it is just at the local McDonald’s, hardware store, or morning coffee group. But tonight’s game was COVID influenced with CDC restrictions and limited access that resembled the stands more when these athletes played as first graders than as high school varsity students. Yet, despite this less than ordinary season, the game in itself was quite familiar. As Newaygo’s coach, Jason Long, put it, “It reminded me of a good old fashion Grant Newaygo game where people were going at it and both teams are going hard. It was fun.”
“Hard” may be an understatement. Within mere seconds of the start of the game, Newaygo found themselves at the free-throw line hitting one out of two. This would become a theme that would rack up the foul count on both teams like Oprah giving out gifts; you get a foul, you get a foul, everybody gets a foul. Yet despite the physical play, Newaygo found themselves in a big hole by the end of the first quarter as Grant held them to a measly five points. You would have thought that this was going to be a much easier game for Grant than the usual rivalry, but Newaygo’s Wyatt Mortensen didn’t receive the memo.
The second quarter could have easily been titled the “Wyatt Mortensen Show.” “It was a fun night to watch him get into it and go,” shared Coach Long. Of Newaygo’s eighteen second quarter points, Mortensen had sixteen of them. It was an effort that brought the Lions to within five points of Grant by the half, and a game that became more reminiscent of years gone past.
With new life breathed into Newaygo for the second half, both teams locked into a fierce battle. For Newaygo, that battle was made slightly easier when Grant’s Brett Long fouled out. Without Long’s aggressive play on the boards, the Lion’s pulled themselves within three and could see the possibilities of securing a Lion’s victory, but an early fourth quarter nine point run by Grant would be too much for Newaygo to come back from. It would also be the final difference as the Tigers secured bragging rights at least until these two teams meet again on March fifth.
“I think that was a good victory for us,” shared Grant’s coach, Joe Schuitema, “and we needed that. In a home game, a rival game with Newaygo, they put a lot of pressure on us with their dribble-drive activity. We sustained until the end, even though it really didn’t feel like it was being sustained. We had foul trouble. We had weird plays that were going on. We had some guys step up. I thought Orion Evans stepped up big with power moves around the rims. That was super for him, and I’m proud of him. I thought Elliot [Butchart] played really well on both ends of the floor doing the dirty work, and doing it with foul trouble so that was good. Some role players stepped in. You got Swinehart hit a three, VanderWeide hit a three, Gage [Burrows] hit a three, and that’s what their role is. And I thought Seth [Schuitema] stepped in on a bum ankle, and handled it pretty well. I’m excited about where we can get, but we are definitely not there.”
Coach Long added, “I thought both sides played hard physical basketball, and it kind of came down right to the end. It was a five six point game all the way through. Just a good Grant Newaygo game.”
Leading in tonight’s victory for Grant was Seth Schuitema with fourteen followed by Orion Evans with twelve and Gage Burrows with eleven. Jed VanderWeide (9), Brett Long (7), Elliot Butchart (4), and Payton Swinehart (3) also contributed to the Tiger’s win.
For Newaygo, Wyatt Mortensen led with twenty-four followed by Bryce Decker with fifteen. Also contributing to the Lion’s efforts was Ashton Stephens (5), Josiah Long (3), and Seth McGowen and Hudson Harkness each with two.