By Andrew Johnson

WHITEHALL – The Montague boys basketball team is inexperienced this season, with five sophomores and two juniors on the roster.

Lance Grattafiori looks to drive near the corner for Montague as Mario Moore defends. Photo/Jason Goorman

But the young Wildcats took a big step toward maturity on Friday, beating neighborhood rival Whitehall 61-55 on the road in a West Michigan Conference matchup.

“It’s always a big win when you beat your rival,” said Wildcats head coach Dave Osborne. “Coming in here, on their floor, against a really good team with seven of our kids who’ve never played in a varsity Whitehall-Montague game, keeping our composure was impressive.”

Montague’s composure was tested right away when Whitehall opened up the game with a 14-7 run, causing Osborne to call a second time out with 2:31 left in the first quarter.

“It was just to calm down,” Osborne said about the time out. “You’re going to have runs, and we talked about having those. We just wanted them to calm down a little bit and just play basketball.”

The timeout was successful. Montague finished the quarter on an 8-0 run, taking a 15-14 lead after the first eight minutes.

Montague extended its lead in the second quarter, outscoring Whitehall 12-8 to take a 27-22 lead into halftime. Asher Erickson scored four points in the quarter.

The teams traded baskets in the third quarter before the Wildcats eventually grabbed a 38-32 edge at the buzzer. Red Watson led the Vikings with seven points in the quarter, while Montague was paced by Logan Metcalf with seven.

Dayton Cole goes up for a shot over Montague’s Riley Hagen. Photo/Jason Goorman

The Wildcats and Vikings each scored 23 points in the fourth. Whitehall pulled within two points with 3:29 left, but couldn’t get over the hump. Montague sealed the victory by going 14-for-17 from the free throw line over the final eight minutes.

Tate Stine hit 7 of 8 free throws during that stretch.

“I’m super proud,” Osborne said. “They’ve been working the last two or three weeks and we’ve seen a huge growth. For us to handle the pressure and hit those free throws was huge.”

Erickson led the Wildcats with 14 points on the night while Stine totaled 13.

“It feels amazing,” Erickson said. “We didn’t come out very well, but we came together and moved the ball well to get open shots as the game went on.”

Whitehall was led by sophomore Red Watson with 17 points and junior Dayton Cole with 10.

Montague is now 3-3 overall and 2-2 in conference play while Whitehall fell to 2-4 overall and 2-2 in the conference.