By Justin Haggerty

MONTAGUE – The Montague boys basketball team had several good reasons to play well on Friday.

The most obvious was to continue their perfect start in the West Michigan Conference race. The second was to avenge a season-ending loss to Mason County Central in last year’s district tournament.

Abram Erickson gets Mason County Centrals Ryan Mount for the layup. Photo/Leo Valdez

They accomplished both goals with an impressive 51-31 victory over the Spartans in front of a happy home crowd. The win comes one week before the Wildcats host archrival Whitehall in another key league contest.

“I consider MCC one of the top teams in the league,” said Montague Coach Dave Osborne, whose team improved to 4-1 overall and 4-0 in conference play. “The first half was a back-and-forth battle and a close game.

“The second half we just started to knock down some shots and picked up the defensive intensity. I thought that was the difference in the game.”

Mason County Central jumped out to an early 9-4 lead, led by Jacob Edwards, who scored eight of his team-high 12 points in the first quarter. But Montague battled back and led 10-9 at the first buzzer.

Montague grabbed a 21-12 halftime lead, largely because the Spartans went cold from the floor, missing all seven of their field goal attempts in the second quarter.

“I think the story of the game is the fact that we were unable to score,” said MCC head coach Tim Gensen, whose team dropped to 2-3 overall and 2-2 in conference play. “We had a lot of good looks that we didn’t finish on. We turned the ball over silly on some things.”

Montague led 36-18 near the end of the third quarter. The Spartans then went on a 6-0 run to pull within 12 points with just 10 seconds remaining.

The Wildcats pushed the ball up the floor and found Merritt Hamann waiting just outside the three-point arc. He launched a shot at the buzzer and drained it, extending the Montague lead to 39-24 entering the fourth quarter, and erasing any momentum that MCC was building.

“Definitely a little bit of a back-breaker,” Gensen said about Hamann’s triple. “It took the steam out of what we had done. It was their night for that kind of thing to happen.”

“They had a little run going and (Hamann) hits a three-pointer at the buzzer,” Osborne said. “For any team that’s deflating, and it’s happened to us plenty.

“I’m not going to lie, I’d rather be the one to shoot it.”

Montague outscored MCC 12-7 in the fourth quarter to pull away, despite missing five of their seven free throw attempts down the stretch.

Hamann ended up with 12 points for the Wildcats, including 10 in the second half. Kenyan Johnston, Erickson Abram and Josh Weesies each added nine points for Montague.

Hunter Mosher grabbed seven rebounds for the winners.