By Justin Haggerty
MUSKEGON – With two well-coached, evenly matched teams, one big run can put a game out of reach.
North Muskegon and Muskegon Catholic are certainly a good match for each other. Both were good last season, with each team advancing to regionals, and both have skilled players returning this season.
But one spurt set the two teams apart on Tuesday in the opening game for both teams. It was a 16-2 run in the second and third quarters that propelled the Norsemen to a 72-50 non-league victory.
Riley Fairfield led the charge for the winners with a game-high 22 points.
With 3:45 to play in the first quarter, the game was deadlocked at 11 points apiece.
From there, North Muskegon took control, outscoring MCC 7-2 before the buzzer, then opening the second quarter on a 9-0 run to go up 27-13 with six minutes to play in the first half.
“It’s fairly even teams,” said North Muskegon Coach Chuck Rypstra. “Go back to that three or four minute stretch, that was the big difference right there.”
Each team got into some foul trouble by the midway point of the second quarter, causing a combined 17 free throws in the final 5 1/2 minutes.
The Norsemen continued to control the pace of play, outscoring MCC 24-11 in the second quarter and taking a 43-24 lead into the locker room.
Overall in the first half, North Muskegon shot 16 of 36 from the field and hit 10 of their 14 free throws. MCC converted on 7 of their 22 field goal attempts and 7 of 11 free throws.
“It was a struggle tonight,” said MCC Coach Lamar Jordan, whose team has several football players who won a state title last week and just recently turned their attention to basketball. “It is difficult to only have four or five practices underneath your belt, but we don’t want that to be an excuse.
“We just didn’t come and play well enough. Give credit to North Muskegon though, they’re a really good team.”
The second half was very even and back-and-forth throughout, but the hole was too deep for the Crusaders to dig out of.
MCC outscored the Norsemen in the third quarter, 17-16. Both teams shot 50-percent on 7-of-14 shooting.
Three Norsemen scored in double figures, including Fairfield, junior Vernonell Smith (19 points) and Erick Bleakley (12 points).
LaTommy Scott paced the Crusaders with 18-points. Christian Martinez added 11 and Nick Morgenstern finished with 10 points.
North Muskegon will host Hart on Friday while the Crusaders have a quick turnaround, hosting Grand Rapids Catholic Central on Wednesday.