By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
MUSKEGON – Every time the Grand Haven girls basketball team turned around this season, Mona Shores was there to put an end to something special.
In January the Sailors beat the Bucs for the first time in years, ending Grand Haven’t historic 57-game winning streak.
And on Wednesday Mona Shores played the grim reaper role again, dashing Grand Haven’s effort to win a third straight state championship by grabbing a 39-25 victory in Class A district tournament semifinal action at Reeths-Puffer High School.
The victory was a huge benchmark for the Mona Shores program, which has spent many seasons in Grand Haven’s shadow in local Class A basketball circles.
“I have to hand it to Grand Haven, they have a great program,” said Mona Shores coach Brad Kurth, whose team improved to 17-4 on the season. “They’ve had a great tradition for a long time. It’s hard to match what they have done with two straight state championships. But that’s what makes this even sweeter for us.
“I’m really proud of our girls.”
But the Sailors’ mission to reach the top of the local mountain is not yet complete. Mona Shores will face Muskegon in the district finals Friday at 7 p.m. The game will be a rematch of the two O-K Black Conference co-champions, who split a pair of games earlier in the season.
“We are looking forward to playing Muskegon,” Kurth said. “They are a great team. We split this year, with each of us winning on the other’s court. I really think this is going to be one of the more competitive district finals we’ve had in years.”
Mona Shores went into Wednesday’s contest with a goal in mind – to play tough defense and keep Grand Haven off the scoreboard as much as possible. The Sailors were highly successful in that respect, holding Grand Haven to only seven field goals on the evening.
Grand Haven only scored five points in each of the first two quarters and 14 points in the second half. A big part of the problem was shooting, with the Bucs only converting 7-of-28 shots from the floor.
“We set a goal to hold them to seven points per quarter, which we pretty much accomplished,” Kurth said.
While the Sailors were strong defensively, the Bucs caused many of their own headaches with sloppy play throughout the game. They finished with 12 turnovers, many of them unforced, coming in the form of bad passes and traveling infractions.
The Bucs were also outrebounded 26-19.
The loss was the first for Grand Haven in state tournament play since the 2011 Class A state semifinals.
“We are disappointed, we wanted to play for a championship and have a chance to host the regionals,” said Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer, whose team finished the season with 16 victories and finished second in the tough O-K Red Conference. “The hardest part is for the seniors. It’s hard to say goodbye to them.”
Despite the cold shooting and sloppiness, Grand Haven was in a position to steal the victory for much of the game. The game was tied 5-5 after one quarter, and the Bucs only trailed 14-10 at halftime and 25-21 after three quarters.
But Mona Shores took control by outscoring Grand Haven 14-4 over the final eight minutes.
“We had opportunities in the first half but just struggled to score,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “We were still right there in the second half and still had a chance to beat them. We had a lot of unforced errors and rebounding killed us in this game. We were just out of sync.”
Jasmyn Walker, Jordan Walker and Kelsey Wolffis each scored four points down the stretch to help seal the win for the Sailors.
Jasmyn Walker and Jordan Walker finished with 12 and 10 points, respectively, for Mona Shores.
Amanda Merz paced the sputtering Grand Haven offense with 10 points.