By Jim Goorman
Local Sports Journal
CEDAR SPRINGS – Nail biter, down to the wire, March Madness all fit the exciting finish to the Muskegon Big Reds’ 61-59 victory over the Hudsonville Eagles.
With the victory Muskegon, captured the Class A regional at Cedar Springs and will play next Tuesday in the quarterfinals. That game pits Muskegon against Grand Rapids Christian at 7 p.m. at Lansing Eastern High School.
The game never was decided until a 3-point shot at the buzzer was just off the mark for Hudsonville. The Eagles had clawed their way back from a 57-45 deficit at the 5-minute mark of the fourth quarter with some timely shooting and defensive stops.
Sophomore Mason Opple hit a 3-pointer and was on the giving end of a steal by Brent Hibbitts for a layup which cut the deficit to 57-52. Minutes later, two more 3-pointers and then a steal by Opple and a layup by Matt Stone cut the Muskegon lead to a single point, 60-59, with 44 seconds to go.
Hudonsville had a chance to tie the game after another steal with 29 seconds to go, but Opple missed a 1-and-1 free throw.
Muskegon countered with a free throw from Jordan Waire with 15 seconds to go in the game. That set up the near miracle finish for the Eagles as they looked for something inside, but the Big Red defense caused some havoc on the missed 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Muskegon coach Keith Guy understood the character of the Eagles entering the contest.
“I knew they would make a run, but we are very fortunate to be able to correct some things that happened tonight for the next game,” Guy said. “I am just thankful to God that we can practice tomorrow and correct what happened at the end.”
There were a lot of heroes for the Big Reds as eight players scored and received some spurts from different players throughout the game.
Muskegon started slowly and trailed 11-5 at the first stop.
“Our guys were not relaxed at the beginning and our offense did not move,” Guy said.
Led by Joeviair Kennedy with six points and Juwan Martin’s seven, Muskegon had a 20-point second quarter and a 25-21 halftime lead. Free throws were helpful in the first half as they hit 8 of 9.
Muskegon controlled the third quarter as well with some aggressive defense, led by Deyonte Davis with his blocked shots and other shots he was able to alter. Muskegon had its fast break going in that stanza and received a huge lift as William Robertson hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Muskegon a 47-36 lead.
But things changed in the last 5 minutes of the game and that brought the huge following of Eagle boosters to their feet. They lost the game by a bucket, but gained the respect of all the fans and opposing players. It was a 23-point quarter by the Eagles.
Matt Stone led Hudsonville with 24 points, but it was the controlling of the duo 6-foot-6 starters –Cody Suive and Brent Hibbitts that made Coach Guy proud.
“The biggest step for us before the game was to hold these two to less than 10 points,” Guy said.
Hibbitts scored six points and Stuive had four. Opple had a very effective night, however, as he finished with 17 points.
Juwon Martin led the Big Reds with 16 points and Deshaun Thrower scored 12.
Stone 9 4-4 24 Opple 7 2-5 17 Magsig 2 4 -4 8 Stuive 1 4-4 6 Hibbitts 1 2-5 4 Totals: 23 16-22 59.
Martin 4 7-8 12 Thrower 4 3-5 12 Kennedy 3 3-3 9 Davis 3 0-0 6 Waire 2 2-2 6 Roberson 2 0-0 5 Jenkins 2 1-4 5 Dockery 0 2-2 2 Totals: 20 18-24 61
Hudsonville 11-10-15-23 — 59
Muskegon 5-20-22-14 — 61
3-pointers: Stone (2), Opple, Martin, Thrower, Roberson. Fouls: Hudonville 16 Muskegon 17. Technicals: none.