By: Nate Dreyer
Photo courtesy of Miles Postema
To put it mildly, the biggest night of the season so far entirely lived up to the hype Friday night and continued that excitement through the weekend with more big contests on MSR, & beyond.
Across boys and girls competition, three leagues in the O-K Conference saw unbeatens play for the conference lead, with other big games also helping stretch and decide conference title race leads.
Rockford Boys Take Early Edge in the Red
East Kentwood was certainly the place to be Friday night, as our Joey Sutherlin and the E.K. Michigan Sports Radio team had coverage of two games between unbeaten-in-conference foes with Rockford in town for a heated doubleheader.
The Boys opened the night with both teams rolling in their last few contests and looking to impose their unique strategic will on the other. The Rams were able to pull out a double digit lead through three quarters, but the mark of Mike Thomas’s Falcons over the past two seasons has been their ability to rapidly close deficits and win games with their backs’ against the wall.
E.K. Would mount one of those patented charges off their full court, havoc attack. This night, however, would belong to the Rams – As Kentwood’s march would fall just short – with Rockford hanging on 61-56. Rockford was led by Andrew Landis who put up 25 points and five three pointers in the winning effort. The Falcons were led by Jah Hatchett, who scored 29 to lead all scorers.
The Rams now sit at 5-0 in the ‘Red’ and 9-3 overall and have the head-to-head advantage against the rest of the O-K Red’s top threats through the first half of the schedule – E.K., Hudsonville, and Grandville.
E.K. Girls Flip The Script
The reigning state champion Rams came into Friday night riding a 33-game win streak going all the way back through December of last year’s championship-winning season. East Kentwood’s girls have been on as good of a run as any other team in the state, with just one loss to their name in the non-conference play coming into Friday.
Rockford would jump out to the first quarter lead in a back and forth affair, leading 12-10 after the first. But momentum swung to the red-and-black in the second quarter as E.K. would take a 24-22 lead into the half.
In the end, it would be a similar final score, but flipped result, to the boys game, as East Kentwood would hold on to hand the Rockford girls their first loss in 33 contests and take the lead in the O-K Red. Harmonie Belton for Kentwood put up 19 points to lead all scorers.
Unity Christian Edge ‘Broncos for the Blue
A terrific coaching battle and mixing styles defined the game for the top spot in the O-K Blue at Coopersville Friday night, as Scott Soodsma and his Unity Christian Crusaders came into town to take on the Broncos, both unbeaten in league play.
It would be the ‘Saders putting themselves in a familiar spot for the program, atop the conference chase after they were able to survive a back-and-forth thriller and pull out a two-point road victory, 58-56.
Max VanKoevering was the leading man for Unity Christian, as he put up 15 points for U.C. The Crusaders are now 4-0 in the conference and a half game up on the Broncos, who’s extra game played sits them at 4-1.
Bulldogs Sweep Scots
After a red-hot 8-1 start, the Grandville boys dropped back-to-back games against the top duo in the O-K Red of Rockford and East Kentwood. The Grandville girls had dropped 7 in-a-row and were still searching for their first win in the league coming into Friday night.
It was the fighting Scots of Caledonia in Grandville, first on the boys side, Lamar Chapman’s new-look boys team would go up by a score after the end of the first quarter. But, Grandville would slowly pull away from there on out. The lead stretched to almost 20 for the ‘Dawgs before a late run from the Scots would close the gap some, and earn Grandville a ten-point, 59-49 win. Grandville’s Jr G/F Caden Neves was the story of the night, as his slashing and shooting put up a career high 23 points to lead the Bulldogs to victory.
Defense was the name of the game on the girls side, as Grandville’s girls under first-year-HC Mike VanHekken delivered a near shutout first half vs. the Cal girls. At the end of the second quarter, Grandville led 25-3, and had blanked the Scots in the 2nd quarter.
The Scots were able to find more of a groove offensively in what still mostly remained a slow-paced and grinding second half. Their comeback bid would fall short, as Grandville picked up their first O-K Red win of the season, 36-21. Grandville’s Sr PG Gracie Rakowsky led the way again on Friday for the ‘Dawgs, pacing the way with 11 points. Gortmaker had 9 for Caledonia.
Catholic Central Extends Lead in Gold (Twice)
Friday night gave an opportunity vs. the Red Hawks of Cedar Springs for both the G.R.C.C. boys and girls to stay unbeaten in conference and keep or stretch their leads in the O-K Gold.
In the boys contest, the Cougars continued to roll on with another big win, 68-46. Carter Meerman hit five three-pointers and had 19 points, while future Michigan Wolverine Durral Brooks had 20.
The Catholic Central girls were faced with a tough test vs. a 9-1 Cedar Springs squad. They would have a very impressive night, especially on the defensive end, holding the ‘Hawks to less than 30 and picking up a 47-27 win to complete the big night for the Cougars.
Gotta Get It Classic & Other Notes
The annual ‘Gotta Get It’ Classic, in it’s second year at East Kentwood was held on Saturday with two of the prime-time matchups being live on Michigan Sports Radio.
*The East-Side teams held on and won both MSR-Broadcasted contests. As Detroit MLK won an absolute thriller over Northview, 54-53, hitting a winning shot with two seconds remaining. The loss snapped a perfect 8-0 start for Northview, who still had a massive week that included a statement 21-point win over Forest Hills Central on Tuesday and another big win over EGR on Friday.
*Event host East Kentwood had a chance to bounce back off the loss on their home floor the night before to Rockford, but would also fall short in the nightcap vs. state-title contender (and title favorite shortlist), East Lansing. The Trojans controlled the game from the jump, leading 29-16 at the half and winning 66-47. East Lansing is now a perfect 11-0 on the season.
*Other notable results Friday included another buzzer-beater for the east-side, as Warren Lincoln beat Grand Rapids Christian at the final buzzer. And, a surprising and big-time bounce-back statement for Zeeland West, as after they ceded the conference lead to Muskegon on Friday night, the Dux would pull off a big win over Cass Tech (the team that beat Muskegon in the state final last year) at the Gotta Get It Classic.
*South Christian’s boys, like Catholic Central also earned a big win over Ottawa Hills Friday, staying a game back of C.C. and keeping the looming second matchup between the rivals as big as ever. The Sailors dropped their game at the EK showcase Saturday to Grand Blanc, 60-56.
*Hudsonville’s boys put up an impressive 93 points in a Friday win over West Ottawa, 93-56. Their OT loss to Rockford is their lone blemish on their league record and they remain firmly in the race for the Red, still having to play East Kentwood and Grandville twice, along with a second meeting vs. the conference-leading Rams.
*The Holland Christian boys won the always-raucous rivalry over Hamilton at the Holland Civic Center Friday, 65-53. The Maroons put four players in double digit scoring on the night, as Hamilton was paced by an impressive evening from their junior Center James Hoffman, who had 26 in the loss. The Maroons now sit at 3-1 and remain in the race for the O-K Blue a game back of Unity Christian and a half-game back of Coopersville
Check back in early next week, as we’ll have a ton more great action across the area on MSR and will have a preview of what’s coming up! Also be sure to keep up with the scores, standings and future schedules for teams in the O-K Conference, CSAA and beyond – along with live action – right here on MichiganSportsRadio.com!