By Nate Thompson
Something had to give between the two red-hot teams, and the Norse came out on top.
North Muskegon closed the third quarter on a 10-0 run, then held off a late charge by the Cardinals to claw out a 59-55 victory at Orchard View High School.
With the victory, North Muskegon improved to 13-5 overall. The Norsemen’s only loss since Jan. 27 was a two-point setback against undefeated Ravenna, a squad they drew in the opening round of the upcoming Division 3 district tournament.
“This was a good game for us because we don’t see a lot of teams like (OV) in the West Michigan Conference,” said North Muskegon coach Chuck Rypstra. “They’re so quick with their hands, so much so that you think the officials are missing fouls against them, but that’s a pretty good officiating crew.
“So they’re getting a hand on the ball, and it’s a matter of us being tougher and stronger with the ball. And when we made the extra pass, we saw the ball going through the hoop.”
Doing the most damage for North Muskegon was the coach’s son, senior guard Eric Rypstra, who totaled 18 points, including four triples.
The sharpshooter said he missed “6 or 7 games” to start the season as he recovered from a broken ankle suffered during football season.
“When I first started, my ankle was still sore after games, so I wasn’t full recovered,” Rypstra said. “Now, my drives (to the rim) are back and my (shooting) form is feeling good.”
Rypstra and his teammates started strong from the field, but so did OV standout guard Ke’Ontae Barnes. Rypstra had seven points and North Muskegon connected on four triples in the opening quarter, while Barnes countered with 10 points. The Norse led 16-14 after one.
North Muskegon extended its advantage to 22-15 early in the second quarter, but the Norse offense became stagnant with too many forced shots, and the Cardinals closed the half on a 11-3 run to take a 26-25 lead at the break.
Momentum switched in a blink of an eye in the third quarter.
Barnes and JJ Tunstull drained back-to-back 3-pointers for OV to draw the contest even at 36-36 with 2:31 remaining in the quarter.
Then North Muskegon made the smart, extra pass to set up senior forward John Hayhurst on a pair of transition buckets and roared to a 46-36 lead going into the fourth. Hayhurst finished with nine points and 11 rebounds for the Norse.
Barnes tried his best to will the Cardinals back into the game midway through the fourth quarter. He converted a bucket following a North Muskegon turnover with 4:30 remaining. Then after another Norse throwaway, Barnes drove into the paint, elevated, dipped low to avoid contact and found a way to bank in an off-balance shot to make it a 51-48 game with 3:45 left.
But North Muskegon made four-straight free throws in the bonus, and also got a nice lefty layup by 6-foot-6 senior Noah Stewart to push its lead to 57-51 with 36 seconds remaining.
Barnes missed a floater in the paint with 20.9 seconds left, and the Cardinals never seriously threatened again.
Barnes finished with 21 points, which Coach Rypstra called a victory for his team because it was below his season average. Junior forward Larry Brewer added 18 for the Cardinals, who fall to 12-5 overall.
Rypstra grabbed nine rebounds and also had three steals for North Muskegon, while guard Trevor Schultz contributed 12 points.
Eric Rypstra said the Norse are riding a wave of confidence at the right time of the season.
“Early in the season, we were trying to figure things out and molding everything together,” he said. “Now, everyone knows their roll and we’re all clicking.
“It was a lot closer the second time we played (Ravenna),” he added, referring to the looming showdown in districts. “Now, we’re passing the ball better and playing better as a team. I think we’re gonna get them the third time.”