Senior Sailors Find Way to Final

March 14, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Both teams playing in the first MHSAA Class B Semifinal on Friday had learned valuable lessons from their trip to the Breslin Center – and Semifinal defeat – the year before.

But only one could move on to Saturday night’s championship game.

Midland Bullock Creek, with only two seniors, plans on using a few more helpful pointers from this season’s trip in 2014-15. But Grand Rapids South Christian, with seven seniors, will lay it all on the line this time after downing the Lancers 52-47.

The top-ranked Sailors will attempt to win their first MHSAA title since 1988 and finish a perfect 27-0 at 6 p.m. Saturday against Eaton Rapids.

“Coming into this with five seniors starting helped a lot with experience. Last year … I remember walking into this big building like, “Wow,” with all the nerves,” South Christian senior Cassidy Vredevoogd said.

“This has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. Getting so close last year was unbelievable. Getting to the Finals now, it’s unreal.”

That’s not to say there weren’t some jitters among the Sailors at the start. But veteran calm won out by the end, a good thing considering one key stat that made it almost surprising that South Christian came away with the win.

The Sailors turned the ball over 33 times – after doing so only five in its Quarterfinal win over Parchment on Tuesday – but balanced that with a 44-25 rebounding advantage and by making 82 percent of their free-throw attempts. Bullock Creek made only 54 percent of those tries and watched their chances dissolve with a 4 for 21 performance from 3-point range.

The Lancers made only 2 of 10 trey tries during the fourth quarter as a one-point lead with 6 minutes left turned into the final deficit.

“Some were a little deeper than we normally would like to see, and that was a combination of their length and then fatigue a little bit,” Bullock Creek coach Justin Freeland said. “But I thought the best course the last 4-5 minutes was to encourage them. … And I truly believed we would hit the final two and go home and be playing (Saturday).”

Bullock Creek may have had a chance to create some space during the second quarter, if not for the key performance of Sailors sophomore sub Markaya Vander. She scored all 11 of her points plus grabbed four rebounds as South Christian’s first-quarter lead turned into only a three-point halftime deficit.

Morgan Torres scored as well to finish that second quarter for the Sailors, and finished tying for the team high with 11 points including seven during the second half. Twice she either tied the score or gave the Sailors a lead.

Vredevoogd added eight points and seven rebounds and senior forward Renee Broekhuizen had six points, eight rebound and three assists. Seniors scored 10 of the points during the Sailors’ closing 12-6 run.

“We have seven seniors who were all here last year, and that experience has been a key factor in our terrific season,” South Christian coach James De Bruyn said. “They set the tone with their leadership, and when crunch time came down they found a way. And they found it again tonight.”

Bullock Creek (24-2) should find itself with a similar opportunity next winter. Only two seniors graduate, and all five starters plus three top subs should return.

Junior center Halee Nieman led the Lancers on Friday with 18 points and seven steals. Junior guard Hannah Heldt added 16 points, five rebounds and five steals.

“It burns really badly, especially right now. Tonight’s going to be tough, but it only motivates us to work harder in the summer, harder in the postseason, harder in the regular season next season,” Heldt said. “We learn from these experiences. We learned from last year, and we did a lot of things better than last year. We definitely improved, and this is a motivator for next year for sure.”

Click for a full box score and video from the press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) South Christian’s Jennifer DeBoer goes after a loose ball as multiple Bullock Creek players also pursue. (Middle) Bullock Creek’s Ellie Juengel launches a jumper over the Sailors’ Morgan Torres.

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Midway through the first quarter, Bullock Creek's Halee Nieman scores on a putback of her own missed free throw against South Christian. (2) With 1:41 left in the fourth, South Christian's Dani Oeverman hits a big jump shot to give the Sailors a five-point lead.

Teams of the Month: Hart Girls & Boys Basketball

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 23, 2023

Few communities in Michigan this winter celebrated as many sizable basketball achievements as small-town Hart.

The 2,000-resident Oceana County seat, about seven miles off the Lake Michigan shore and sitting about 20 miles south of Ludington and 30 north of Muskegon, celebrated accomplishments by both its girls and boys basketball teams that carried statewide significance – and made choosing either over the other’s impossible.

The Hart girls and boys basketball teams are the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Teams of the Month” for February, and this announcement is coming toward the end of March as both just kept winning and adding to their season-long lists of feats.

The Pirates girls made the first major headline when they defeated second-place Mason County Central 51-32 on Feb. 10 to clinch the outright West Michigan Conference Rivers championship. The Hart girls had also won the formerly one-division WMC in 2021-22, and this year’s run ran their league winning streak to 31 games.

Then the boys took their turn, clinching a share of the Rivers championship Feb. 17 with a 67-51 win over North Muskegon and then the title outright by defeating Mason County Central 63-45 on Feb. 23. This league title received some statewide buzz as it was the Hart boys’ first since 1963.

A week later, Hart’s boys finished a 22-0 regular season – becoming the only boys team, and joined by only three girls teams – to go 22-0 this first season that MHSAA member schools were allowed to play 22 games instead of the previous longtime maximum of 20.

The Hart boys then drew into one of the strongest Districts in the state in any division, with the Division 2 group at Big Rapids including four league champions. The Pirates opened with a win over the host Cardinals – winners of the Central State Activities Association – before ending their season at 23-1 with a loss to Big North Conference co-champ Cadillac in the District Final.

The Pirates girls, meanwhile, had clinched their Division 3 District with a third win over Mason County Central, and then won a Regional by edging two-time reigning Finals runner-up Kent City 37-34 – in the process also avenging Hart’s first loss of this season, from Dec. 20. The Regional title was the Hart girls' first since 1992.

Next up was 23-1 Buchanan – and Hart made its biggest statewide splash by handing the Bucks a 45-41 Quarterfinal defeat that sent the Pirates to the MHSAA Girls Basketball Semifinals for the first time.

Hart would end up falling to eventual champion Hemlock 57-26 at Breslin Center, finishing the season 24-4.

“I said it the other day: We’re kinda overlooked. Last year we had a really good team, probably one injury away from another run like this,” said Hart girls basketball coach Travis Rosema during the press conference after the Semifinal. “It started with people investing into the girls. Now that players like Aspen (Boutell) and Abbey (Hicks) have made this run, I saw so many young faces. … We left this morning, the elementary school was packed, and every kid had a sign. It’s a positive impact (and) it’s going to be a lot moving forward.”

The Pirates girls were keyed by Hicks, a junior, sophomore Addi Hovey and Boutell, one of three senior starters.

The boys were paced by senior Parker Hovey, who went over 1,000 points for his career and will continue at Hope College.

Past Teams of the Month, 2022-23

January: Taylor Trillium Academy bowling - Report
Byron Center hockey - Report
Martin football - Report
Gladwin volleyball - Report
Negaunee girls tennis - Report

(PHOTOS by Kara Raeth/CatchMark SportsNet.)