By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal
EAST LANSING – For the second day in a row, the Grand Haven Buccaneer girls basketball team withstood heavy pressure and won a basketball game.
So, for the second year in a row, the Bucs are the Class A state champions after posting a nailbiting 60-54 overtime victory over Grosse Pointe South in Saturday’s title game at The Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University. It also completed a perfect 27-0 season for the Buccaneers.
That Red Devil pressure helped cause 32 Bucs’ turnovers in the game that took 36 minutes to decide a winner. But to offset those miscues, the Bucs made 22-of-29 shots for 76 percent.
“That’s a really good team that we just beat,” Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalcyk-Fulmer said. “They are very good and I’m just proud of our kids. We hit some shots and played pretty good defense and found a way to win. They are tough at every position and I just can’t say enough.”
The Bucs also defeated the Blue Devils in last year’s title game, 54-53.
For much of Saturday’s game, it didn’t appear that this year’s game would go down to the wire. Grand Haven led for much of the game, at times in the third quarter by double digits.
The Bucs fell behind early on by a 9-5 count, but nine straight points to finish out the opening quarter gave them a 14-9 lead.
The lead grew to 22-11 on a pair of free throws by Amanda Merz and later 26-15 on a basket by Grace Kendra. At the half, the Bucs led 26-17.
Early third-quarter buckets by Kendra and Craymer (3-pointer) extended the lead to 31-20 and the lead remained in the 9-11 point range even after 6-foot-5 post player Abby Cole had to go to the bench with her fourth foul late in the quarter.
“I knew that she was fouling so I thought just keep going at her and hope they call fouls or try to get her to jump,” said Rice, a sophomore who led her team with 24 points on 10-of-23 shooting. “I just wanted to try to make plays and try to get her (Cole) out of the game because she’s a huge player for Grand Haven and I attempted and succeeded at times, but failed on some others.”
Grand Haven led 40-31 after three quarters.
But there would be no cruising to the finish for the Bucs. Nine fourth-quarter turnovers allowed the Blue Devils to creep closer and closer, and when Cierra Rice scored on a baseline drive, Grosse Pointe had a 49-48 lead with 3 minutes left.
Hannah Wilkerson, who finished the game with 17 points on 8-for-8 shooting, scored on a layup, which was followed by a Craymer layup and Grand Haven had a 52-49 lead with 2 minutes to play.
That lead evaporated when Gretchen Shirar canned a 3-pointer to tie the game with under 2 minutes left.
Each team has possessions and committed turnovers in the final minutes, but there would be no more points scored. The Blue Devils, which scored off a baseline backdoor earlier in the game, tried it again with 7 seconds left, but Wilkerson broke up the play and Grand Haven took possession.
“I saw them do that once and it was real helpful with the coaches at the bench … we can out of the timeout and they were all like ‘watch the back door they are going to run a play for her’ and I almost didn’t get it, but I got my hand in there just in time,” Wilkerson said.
With 6.4 seconds left, Jami Hogeboom entered the game and threw a long pass to Cole near center court. Her pass into the front court sailed out of bounds. That signaled overtime.
Grand Haven got the early jump in the extra session with a free throw by Merz, a pass from Merz to Cole for a bucket and a short bank shot by Cole. That 5-0 run put the Bucs in control. Merz hit two more free throws down the stretch and Angie Schultz made 1-of-2 with 15 seconds left to ice the game.
“We had so many contributions from so many kids,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “Hannah Wilkerson, Taylor Craymer, Amanda Merz hit a big 3 in the corner and Grace Kendra. I think about as much out of my kids I could have tonight.”
Besides Wilkerson’s 17 points, the Bucs had 14 points and seven rebounds from Craymer and 11 from Cole. Besides hitting a big 3 and making key free throws, Merz, a 5-foot-4 sophomore, led the Bucs with eight rebounds. Cole had seven rebounds and eight blocked shots.
Cole spent the final minute of the third quarter and the first 1:38 of the fourth quarter on the bench with four fouls. And when Grosse Pointe South made a run to within four points, Cole was back on the floor.
“It was really stressful,” Cole said. “I knew I was probably going back in the game at some point because we were losing our lead. I guess I was just mentally preparing myself to go out there and play smart.” She played the final 6:22 of the fourth quarter and the overtime without picking up her fifth foul.
Two other Blue Devils reached double figures in scoring besides Rice. Claire DeBoer finished with 10 points on 3-of-23 shooting and Bre’nae Andrews had 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Grosse Pointe South made 21-of-78 shots for 27 percent.
“Getting down the way we did then coming back to send it into overtime, but also we did win 25 straight games,” Grosse Point South coach Kevin Richards said. “We lost our first game to a nationally-ranked team in Whitney Young and for us, to win 25 games is pretty impressive.
“We executed the game plan as far as what we wanted to do and I can’t say enough for the girls in the locker room right now,” Richards said.
Grand Haven 60, Grosse Pointe South 54, OT
GROSSE POINTE SOUTH
Gretchen Shirar 2 0-0 6, Claire DeBoer 3 4-4 10, Cierra Rice 10 4-6 24, Bre’nae Andrews 4 0-0 10, Aliezza Brown 2 0-0 4. Totals 21 8-10 54.
Hannah Wilkerson 8 0-2 17, Taylor Craymer 5 1-2 14, Abby Cole 4 3-4 11, Amanda Merz 2 4-6 9, Grace Kendra 2 2-2 6, Courtney Springer 1 0-0 2, Angie Schultz 0 1-2 1. Totals 22 11-18 60.
GPS 9 – 8 – 14 – 21 – 2 – 54
GH 14 – 12 – 14 – 12 – 8 – 60
3-pointers: Shirar (2), Andrews (2), Wilkerson, Craymer (3), Merz. Total fouls: Grosse Pointe South 19, Grand Haven 8. Fouled out: none.