By Ron Rop
Local Sports Journal

GRAND RAPIDS – On a night when shots just weren’t falling, the Grand Haven Buccaneers had to rely on the old tournament adage: “Survive and advance.”

And that’s just what Coach Katie Kowaczyk-Fulmer’s team did against a scrappy Grandville Bulldog they’d beaten twice during the regular season.

On Thursday, the Bucs survived in a 36-26 decision over Grandville. Grand Haven is 25-0 and headed to the Class A quarterfinals next Tuesday at Lansing Sexton High School. The game, which begins at 7 p.m., will feature the Bucs against Grand Ledge, which defeated Mattawan 47-37 in its regional final game.

And they survived with Miss Basketball candidate Abby Cole scoring just eight points. However, she did chip in 16 blocked shots and five assists.

“They were packing it in, obviously, and they were giving us some wide open looks and we just didn’t shoot the ball very well tonight,” Kowaczyk-Fulmer said. “I think if we knock some shots down it’s a different game, but we didn’t.”

Cole also found herself in unfamiliar territory with foul trouble. She picked up her second foul in the final seconds of the first quarter and had her third with 2:46 left in the third quarter. Despite the issue with fouls, Cole stayed the course.

“I just have to keep playing aggressive,” Cole said. “A lot of people, when they are in foul trouble, they start relaxing and that’s something I don’t do because as soon as I relax they will be making layups in my face and that is my biggest pet peeve … when people make layups on me.”

Grand Haven led 11-7 after one quarter, but the Bulldogs’ second-quarter rally produced a 16-all deadlock at the half.

The third quarter featured little offense with Grand Haven outscoring Grandville 9-3 and taking that six-point lead into the final quarter.

In the final 8 minutes, Grand Haven spread the floor and ran time off the clock.

“They were packing it in and I was like, why do we want to take outside shots so we’re one and done,” Kowalcyk-Fulmer said. “So we just said, ‘let’s spread the floor and make them come and get us.’”

That strategy effectively limited Grandville’s possessions and gave the Bucs 12 free throws in the final quarter. Grand Haven made seven of those.

“We didn’t make all our free throws, but we made enough,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said.

Amanda Merz also played a strong game for Grand Haven with eight points and five rebounds. Angie Schultz also had five rebounds. Hannah Wilkerson added seven points and three steals.

Grandville’s leader was senior post player Jessica Dood, who scored 17 of her team’s 26 points. She also faced the daunting task of battling Cole all night long.

“They played great defense against us,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “They are well coached and it’s always tough beating a team three times. We knew going in, that this was not going to be easy.

“We didn’t play great, but it’s the tournament,” she said. “It’s survive and advance. It’s not always pretty and sometimes you just have to grind it out.”