Big Reds lose lead in the final minute, fall to Hudsonville in Class A regional finals

By Nate Thompson

CALEDONIA – Muskegon and Hudsonville have met in the regional round of the state basketball tournament four years in a row.lsj-fb-logo

The games were all tense and close, but the Big Reds always escaped with a victory – until Wednesday, that is.

The Eagles took their revenge with a late fourth quarter comeback and stunned the Big Reds 44-40 in the Class A regional final at Caledonia High School.

Muskegon ended its season with a sparkling 20-4 record, an O-K Black Conference championship and a Class A district title.

Hudsonville, 19-4, advances to Tuesday’s state quarterfinals against Lansing Everett.

Muskegon #5 Jermane Golidy Skies for two over Hudsonville #2 Jared Blum photo/Tim Reilly

Muskegon #5 Jermane Golidy Skies for two over Hudsonville #2 Jared Blum. Photo/Tim Reilly

“We felt we had opportunities and had them on the ropes early,” said Muskegon Coach Keith Guy. “But a few bounces here and a few bounces there and they’re back in it. It just wasn’t in the cards.

“They always plays us tough,” he added. “You have to give them credit. They made the plays down the stretch.”

Hudsonville was thrilled after ending the string of heartbreaking losses to Muskegon.

“I remember my freshman and sophomore years, I was watching (the Eagles in regionals) losing to the Big Reds, and last year the four-overtime loss,” said Hudsonville senior forward Riley Costen, who scored seven of his game-high 14 points in the fourth quarter.

“It was personal for us. To come out with a win, it was special.”

The Big Reds will look back on the contest as one that slipped away.

They umped out a 5-0 lead in the opening minutes and never trailed until there was just 1:03 left on the clock.

And they never regained the lead after that point.

Much like the two teams’ epic four-overtime battle last season, Hudsonville was able to slow the tempo and stay within striking distance through three quarters.

The Eagles also frustrated the Big Reds with their outstanding man-to-man defense. They drew five charging calls during the contest, bottling up Muskegon’s usually balanced scoring attack.

“That was our game plan, to try to keep them in front, which I thought our kids did a great job of,” said Hudsonville coach Eric Elliot. “We wanted to keep them out of the paint. We’re not that big, we don’t have a big shot blocker, so we had no choice other than to sacrifice our body and take some charges.

“I think we tried taking about 14 of them, but fortunately we were able to get a couple big ones down the stretch.”

Muskegon led 11-5 after one quarter and 18-14 at halftime.

Muskegon #3 Linwood Lee floats the jumper over Hudsonville defender #42 Bryce Akins photo/Tim Reilly

Muskegon #3 Linwood Lee floats the jumper over Hudsonville defender #42 Bryce Akins photo/Tim Reilly

The Big Reds looked like they had the Eagles figured out early in the third quarter, surging to a 24-14 lead on a three-pointer from senior guard Jacarius Scott, who led Muskegon with 11 points.

But the Eagles found an outside stroke of their own to stay close. Senior guard Jared Blum connected on back-to-back triples to trim their deficit to 27-24 with 2:50 left in the third quarter.

Muskegon led 29-25 at the third buzzer.

Elliot said a huge moment came with 2:01 left in the fourth quarter, when Blum got a tough lefty shot to trickle into the hoop, tying the contest at 35-35.

“When we tied it, I thought it was a huge mental thing for us,” he said. “Once we finally got over that hump, it kind of seemed like they tightened up a little bit and we felt a little bit more relaxed.”

The Big Reds regained the lead 38-35 with a triple by Michael Littlejohn. The Eagles got a bucket to pull within one point, then Blum had a steal and layup with 1:03 remaining to give Hudsonville its first lead, 39-38.

Muskegon, which was so brilliant down the stretch in a tight district championship win over Grand Haven last week, was uncharacteristically shaky against Hudsonville.

On four possessions in the final 1:03, the Big Reds missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity, had two turnovers, and were tied up under the basket for a jump ball that went the Eagles’ way. They only managed one bucket in the final minute.

Hudsonville made 5-of-6 free throws in the last minute to ice the victory.

Blum and senior forward Adam VanLaar each scored 12 points for Hudsonville.

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