By Randy Gregory, Michigan Sports Radio
Photo courtesy of Miles Postema
After starting the 23-24 campaign with a record of 2-3, coupled with significant football injuries to a pair of expected starters, hopes were somewhat diminished that Rockford could rebound and make a run at an OK Red title. But with the standout play of seniors Andrew Landis and Drake Irwin, coupled with the emergence of sophomore standouts Jake Bascom and Dylan Gross, the Rams have now run their winning streak to 11 games with a pair of wins this past week.
Rockford first made the trek to East Grand Rapids on Tuesday, January 30th to take on a young 4-11 Pioneer team that has struggled to make their mark at this juncture of the season. As expected, Rockford rolled to a 71-54 win to keep the train shuffling down the tracks. Rockford then hosted Caledonia to take on another young squad that has improved over the course of the season. Rockford withstood a tough effort from the Fighting Scots and eventually claimed a 56-46 triumph. The results left the Rams at 13-3 on the season and all alone in first place in conference play with a mark of 8-0.
“We played really well offensively for the majority of the game against East Grand Rapids,” said Rockford Coach Kyle Clough. “It was 18-9 after the first quarter but they did cut it to a six-point lead at the half. We stretched the lead out in the third quarter before they made a little run late that cut it to about a ten-point game but we really took control from that point forward. East has a couple of nice players but I was pleased with our ability to stay in control for the majority of the contest. It was also big for us to have four players in double figures.”
Landis led Rockford with 22 points. The caveat being that he did not hit a single three-pointer in reaching that total. Gross tossed in 12 while Bascom and Irwin added 11 and 10 respectively. Irwin also added ten rebounds for the Rams.
The Caledonia contest saw Rockford struggling uncharacteristically with turnovers that allowed the Fighting Scots to get a few extra possessions early. But once again the Rams circled the wagons and eventually assumed control to claim the 56-46 win that allowed them to stay unblemished in OK Red action.
“Caledonia has a really unconventional post player who is only 6’3″ but he really gave us some issues early,” said Clough. “I thought we did a very good job everywhere else and showed we can win a game on the defensive end when our shots are not falling on a regular basis.”
Bascom led the Rams with 17 points while Michael DeKuiper and Landis chipped in with 14 and 13 respectively, It was the first double figure night of the season for DeKuiper after struggling to recover from a high ankle sprain suffered during the football season.
“Michael has been a key for us all year despite not being at 100 percent,” said Clough. “He is finally getting close to full strength and his ability to add scoring to his game just gives us another opportunity to spread the ball around and make it difficult for other teams to single out any player. Lucas Pitsch is another player for us that has struggled with football injuries and we were able to get him eight or nine minutes on Friday as he also slowly works his way back. Getting those two back will play a huge factor in helping us reach our full potential as the season progresses.”
The Rams hit the road twice this week for a huge pair of conference games. Rockford will first travel to Grand Haven on Tuesday, February 6th to take on a resurgent Buccaneer squad that is fresh off of an upset of Hudsonville. They have run off three wins in a row and took East Kentwood to overtime in the game preceding the three-game win streak. Grand Haven sits at 9-7 overall on the season. Rockford then travels to Grandville on Friday, February 9th to take on a 12-4 Bulldog team that is also squarely in the conference picture at 6-2.
Make sure you check out the standings and schedules at michigansportsradio.com