By Jim Goorman
Local Sports Journal

The Mona Shores Sailors boys basketball team gave new coach Gene Gifford an early Christmas present Tuesday with a convincing 65-36 non-league victory over visiting Whitehall in the season opener for both schools.

Gifford, the former longtime mens basketball coach at Muskegon Community College, returned to the bench this winter to take over the Sailors, and based on Tuesday’s performance, he may be in for an enjoyable season.

Mona Shores Head coach Gene Gifford assesses the action during his first game coaching for the Sailors.

Mona Shores head coach Gene Gifford assesses the action during his first game coaching for the Sailors.

Whitehall shot out of the gates with a 6-0 lead and then took a 9-2 advantage, only to see the Sailors fight back with a 23-0 run from the middle of the first quarter into  the early minutes of the second.

By halftime the Sailors had a commanding 33-17 lead.

Adreon Billips and Kobe Burse sparked the game-changing run by stealing two passes apiece that resulted in scores. Billips scored 12 of his 14 first-half points during the Sailor outburst.

“I was very happy that our players did not panic and worked their way through (the rough start),” Gifford said. “My biggest concern after our scrimmage last Saturday against Rockford was our defense and our rebounding. We gave up no baseline shots tonight.”

Mona Shores opened the third quarter with a 7-0 run, keyed by Logan Haugh’s four points and Cam Matthew’s three-pointer. The Sailors led by as many as 33 points in the fourth quarter and cruised from there.

It was a very sound defensive effort coupled with strong rebounding for the shorter Sailors, who had a 42-29 edge on the boards. Whitehall, despite having a tall front line averaging 6-4, was limited many times to only one shot by Mona Shores. The Sailors held the Vikings to four single-digit quarters.

Gifford was especially pleased with the defensive effort of Burse, who led his team with six steals.

“You cannot find many players who love to play defense like Kobe Burse,” Gifford said.

Billips led Mona Shoes with 19 points, Tumblin added 14, Haugh had eight and Matthews finished with seven. Tumblin and senior center Logan Smith had seven rebounds apiece.

Whitehall senior Matt Russell led his team with 12 points and had a strong inside presence with nine rebounds.

Whitehall Coach Nate Aardema said he expects his team to improve in the coming weeks.

“I think we have a pretty good team as we had more committed kids this summer playing AYBT, doing individual work outs, and lifting,” he said.