North Muskegon rallies past Whitehall, captures at least a share of conference title

By Mitchell Boatman
LocalSportsJournal.com

NORTH MUSKEGON – For the first time in 15 years, the North Muskegon boys basketball team has clinched at least a share of the West Michigan Conference championship.

The Norseman did so by coming from behind to beat defending conference champion Whitehall 48-41 on Thursday night.

“I didn’t even think about that coming in (to the game),” Norse head coach Chuck Rypstra said. “It’s really cool. To be able to be in that position is pretty cool. We’re one of the smaller schools, and we battle each and every year.”

“It means a lot to us to at least get a share of the title, because we haven’t won a title (since 2003),” said Norse guard TJ McKenzie. “Now we just have to finish out the rest of the season and carry this win streak into districts.”

North Muskegon’s No. 2 TJ McKenzie goes to block the shot of Terrell Harris. Photo/Kris Rake

North Muskegon is now 13-1 and 11-0 in conference play, and needs just one conference win for an outright league title.

Whitehall fell to 10-4 and 8-3 in the WMC.

North Muskegon was on top the entire first half, leading 15-12 after one quarter and 21-18 at the half. Jesse Cooke had seven points in the first half to lead the Norse, while Brandon Rake led Whitehall with 13, including 10 points on offensive putbacks.

After a defense-heavy first half, Whitehall got some shots to fall in the third quarter. The Vikings went on a 17-8 run to close out the quarter and take a 38-33 lead heading to the fourth.

That’s when McKenzie, who missed practice with a foot injury earlier in the week and struggled with his shot all night, stepped up for the Norse. The junior scored North Muskegon’s first six points of the final stanza to even the score at 39-39.

“When we needed a couple, our guards got a little crazy at the (defensive) end,” Rypstra said. “Then you have TJ getting those layups on the other end.”

After McKenzie tied the score, sophomore Eric Rypstra put the Norse ahead for good with a long three-pointer with 1:54 left to play.

“My freaking kid again,” Coach Rypstra said of his son’s habit of taking long shots. “I had to talk to him again about it (earlier in the game), but he made it. It’ll be a good night at my house.”

McKenzie added another five points in the final two minutes, giving him 11 for the quarter and 20 for the game. The Norseman outscored Whitehall 15-3 in the final eight minutes.

“We kind of self-combusted a little bit and they made some great plays,” Whitehall head coach Nate Aardema said. “When we get the ball inside the paint, we score. When we settle and we’re tentative we have a hard time beating people.”

McKenzie’s 20 points and five steals led North Muskegon. Cooke added 13 and Eric Rypstra had eight.

Rake led Whitehall with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Ethan McKenzie added seven points and Steven Learman scored six.

 

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