By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal

GRAND HAVEN – The reigning Class A girls basketball champion  Grand Haven Buccaneers faced a much-improved Reeths-Puffer squad Monday night in the district opener.

Unfortunately for the visiting Rockets, they’ll have to improve even more to stay with the likes of the Bucs.

Grand Haven outscored the 43-23 across the final three quarters to come away with the 64-39 win. The Bucs advance to Wednesday’s district semifinal against Mona Shores. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.

It looked like things might follow the script from the start, as the Bucs barreled out to a 13-5 lead. However, the Rockets battled back, going on an 11-4 run to cut Grand Haven’s lead to one point, 17-16.

“Obviously, we were excited about the start,” said Reeths-Puffer coach Brandon Barry.  “We had some pretty heavy emotions and we had hit some shots. But Grand Haven being such a good, solid team, you can’t go very many possessions without getting some points.”

And that’s precisely what happened, as the Bucs finished the first scoring the final five points to lead 22-16 heading into the second. Once there, the hosts scored the first 10 points of the frame, while Reeths-Puffer wallowed in 1-for-11 shooting in the second.

“We weren’t getting after it defensively, and they were hitting some shots,” said Grand Haven head coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer about the competitive start of game. “That’s a credit to them. Obviously they are an improved team from last year but they’re still young; they’re two best players are a freshman (Kalisa Williams) and a sophomore (Camaryia Williams), while we’re an experienced team. I thought we took care of business after that.”

Indeed they did, finishing the half leading 34-21, and then going up 20 after three quarters behind a 13-0 run to start the third.

For Barry’s Rockets, this contest was a tool for growth for his young squad.

“Obviously, we had to play the best game we’ve ever played to win it, to even be in it,” he explained. “I’m just proud of my girls that they fought all the way to the end and didn’t quit, that they stayed positive with each other.”

For Grand Haven, Kowalczyk-Fulmer is trying to keep her team focused on the prize, which includes getting past a game Sailor squad Wednesday night.

“We respect everyone,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer. “It doesn’t matter if you are 21-0 or 0-21, everybody (starts the tournament) with a clean slate. The fact that we beat Mona Shores three months ago by I don’t even know how much, doesn’t really mean anything. It’s tournament time, it’s survive and advance. We just want to keep getting better.”

Buc power forward Taylor Craymer led the way with 19 points and seven rebounds, with all-state center Abby Cole swatting away seven shots to go with seven rebounds and four assists. Hannah Wilkerson added 13 points and four assists for Grand Haven.

The aforementioned Rocket freshman Kalisa Williams paced her team with 19 points and four steals.

Grand Haven 64, Reeths-Puffer 39 

Courtney Springer 1 0-0 2, Amanda Merz 3 0-0 6, Emily Sexton 1 0-0 2, Angie Schultz 2 2-2 7, Mallory Beswick 2 0-0 4, Hannah Wilkerson 4 4-5 13, Bailey TeBeau 0 3-4 3, Abby Cole 3 0-0 6, Krsteena Davis 1 0-2 2, Taylor Craymer 7 4-4 19. Totals 24 13-17 64.

Kayla Melton 1 0-0 2, Kalisa Williams 8 3-4 19, Camaryia Williams 0 1-2 1, Grace Swanson 2 0-0 5, Taylor Seidell 0 1-2 1, Hannah Lemieux 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 7-10 39.

Grand Haven 22-12-15-15-64
Reeths-Puffer 16-5-8-10-39

3-point field goals: C. Williams, Swanson, Schultz, Wilkerson, Craymer. Total fouls: Grand Haven 13, Reeths-Puffer 10. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none.