By Craig Beilfuss
MONTAGUE—A great defensive effort by Hart coupled with a high percentage from the free throw line and a poor night of free throw shooting by Montague secured the West Michigan Conference title for the Pirates for the first time since 1993 (29 years) as they took care of the Wildcats on Thursday evening by a final score of 47-35.
“I am really proud of the girls,” said Hart coach Travis Rosema.
“These girls have put the time in, along with coaches, staff and parents. We’ve all invested a lot of time and effort and we got a conference championship in return.”
Before a jammed packed crowd at Montague High School, Hart canned 18-of-23 from the free throw line, led by junior Aspen Boutell who went a perfect 10-of-10 from the charity stripe. Montague shot a dismal 6-of-19 from the free throw line.
“Aspen (Boutell) is a great girl that has been working hard on her shots,” said Rosema. “She has been putting in the time and now she is reaping the benefits.”
Montague got on the board first on a basket and a free throw by senior Maddie Meacham to give the Wildcats their only lead of the night at 3-0.
Hart ripped off the next 11 points to take a 11-3 lead. The Pirates got a 3-pointer and a basket from Abby Hicks, two buckets from Addison Hovey and a pair of free throws from Boutell and forced the Wildcats to play catch-up ball the remainder of the night.
Hart went on to hold a 13-8 lead after the first eight minutes of action.
“The girls came out and did a great job,” Rosema said. “There was no layover from the Kent City game. The girls came out and set the tone right away.”
The free throw shooting in the second stanza played a pivotal role in determining the outcome of the ballgame as the Pirates connected on 6-of-7 free throws and Montague managed to hit only 2-of-12 from the charity stripe, missing nine consecutive free throws to close out the first half.
Hart held a 10-6 scoring advantage in the second quarter and went into the halftime break with a 23-14 lead.
“Awesome atmosphere to play in,” said Montague coach Nick Thaler.
“Unfortunately we just did not shoot the ball well. We missed at least 15 shots around the basket and shot 32 percent from the line. It is difficult to play from behind against good teams and Hart definitely fits that bill. They shot the ball decently and shot 78 percent from the foul line,” said Thaler.
Like the first quarter, the Wildcats’ Meacham hit the first bucket of the third quarter to cut the Hart lead to 23-16. It was as close as Montague got to Hart the entire second half.
Hart senior Morgan Marvin hit her only shot of the evening, a three pointer to get things rolling for the Pirates and put them up 26-16.
“Morgan is a competitor,” said Rosema. “We are a sharing team. If everyone who watches our games doesn’t just pay attention to the scoring totals and other stats, they’ll realize that Morgan has had a huge impact on every game.”
From that point on, Hart freshmen Addison Hovey took over for the Pirates, scoring the remaining eight straight third quarter points, hitting a three pointer, a free throw and two baskets from the field.
“Addison struggled in those first few games this year, but since Jayd went down with her injury, she has got a lot better, said Rosema. “She is so fast and she can dribble around people and out of trouble. There are still moments, where you say what are you doing!”
Montague managed to outscore Hart 12-11 in the third period but still trailed 34-26 entering the final eight minutes of play.
Those final eight minutes belonged to the Pirates’ Boutell who scored 10 of the Hart 13 points, hitting two bank shots and going a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line.
“Aspen has been working on that bank shot since she was in the seventh grade. That is her shot,” said Rosema.
Hart racked up a 13-9 scoring advantage over the Wildcats in the fourth quarter to remain perfect in the West Michigan Conference.
Hovey finished with a game high 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals for Hart, whole Boutell tossed in 14 points, grabbed three rebounds, had three steals and dished out three assists.
“We will learn from this and get back to work,” said Thaler after the loss. “Still have a lot to play for remaining.”
Sophomore Kendall Osborne led Montague with 10 points, five rebounds and four steals. Senior Emma Dyer chipped in with eight points, five rebounds and two assists. Senior Claire Meacham tossed in six points while collecting a team high 12 rebounds and her sister senior Maddie Meacham chipped in with five points and grabbed seven rebounds
Hart improves to 14-3 overall. The Pirates will host Muskegon Oakridge on Tuesday, February 22 to close out the regular season.
Montague slips to 14-4 overall and remains in second place in the West Michigan Conference with a 10-2 record. The Wildcats will visit Ravenna on Tuesday, February 22.