By Dave Tomczak

MUSKEGON – A strong defensive performance against its archrival helped the Reeths-Puffer boys basketball team get somewhere it hasn’t been in a long time.

The Rockets held Mona Shores to 13 first-half points on Wednesday, and pulled away for a 59-45 Division 1 district semifinal win at Muskegon High School.

Reeths-Puffer improved to 17-5 on the year and will face host Muskegon on Friday at 7 p.m. in the district championship game.

It will be the Rockets’ first district final appearance since 2005.

They will face a familiar foe. The Rockets and Big Reds split their regular season series, with each team winning on the road.

The Sailors’ James Gilbert hit a driving layup 30 seconds into the game, but the Shores managed only one more basket in the first quarter, and the Rockets had a 12-5 lead at the first buzzer and never trailed again.

Both teams struggled from long distance in the first half, combining for only two 3-pointers. They scored eight points apiece in the second quarter, giving Reeths-Puffer a 20-13 lead at halftime.

“The first half I thought was outstanding,” said Reeths-Puffer Coach Lance Johnson. “To hold them to 13 points, that set the tone on defense.”

The offenses picked it up to start the third quarter, with R-P point guard Kaleb Mitchelson successfully attacking the Sailors’ defense.

Mitchelson, a sophomore, kept driving the basket before dishing off to his teammates for layups, assisting on three consecutive trips down the floor.

“Mona Shores does a really good job of guarding the (perimeter),” said Mitchelson, who totaled 12 points and seven assists in the game. “My job all year has been to be a playmaker, so I had to go make plays.”

“He can really shoot the ball, but the best part of his game is he is an elite passer,” Johnson said of his point guard. “He set our guys up for some easy shots, especially in that big third quarter.

The Rockets built a 30-20 lead before Mona Shores finally found life on offense.

Ahmon Davis hit a 3-pointer, and Gilbert added a pair of buckets, pulling the Sailors within 33-29 with two minutes left in the third.

But Reeths-Puffer scored the final four points of the quarter and led 37-29 headed into the fourth.

Then the Rockets, who only made one 3-pointer through three quarters, put the game away with three 3-pointers and a 9-for-10 effort at the free throw line.

Reeths-Puffer finished 13-for-17 from the line.

Carter Fulton led R-P with 15 points, Jalen Williams added 10 and Gary Humphrey finished with six rebounds.

Mona Shores, which finishes 5-16 on the season, was led by Gilbert with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Jaylen Hobson scored eight points.