By Craig Beilfuss
MUSKEGON—The Reeths-Puffer Rockets avenged a January 14 loss to the Zeeland West Dux on Friday evening as they fought and clawed their way past the visitors by a final score of 56-48.
Friday evening, first year Rockets head coach Nate Aardema had to rely on his bench due to Reeths-Puffer getting into early foul trouble.
The two reserves who gave the Rockets a huge lift included junior Clyde Bartee and sophomore Antrel Jones.
“They were great,” said Aardema, along with Kyle Schlaff. “They were all huge parts of our victory tonight.”
“We showed a lot of mental toughness overcoming foul trouble by Travis (Ambrose) and found a way to grind out a win over a very tough Zeeland West team,” Aardema said.
Reeths-Puffer jumped out to a slim 17-15 lead after the first eight minutes of play as Schlaff hit two 3-point shots for the Rockets.
“Kyle made some big 3’s in the first quarter,” said Aardema. He’s very capable of hitting those shots and he does the dirty work for us.”
The Dux took control in the second stanza outscoring the Rockets 15-8 to take a 30-25 halftime lead.
Jaxson Whitaker got going on the offensive end for Reeths-Puffer in the third quarter scoring six points and leading the Rockets to a 14-10 scoring advantage to close the Zeeland West lead to 40-39 after three quarters.
“We had to make some adjustments on the fly tonight,” said Aardema. Jaxson kind of put us on his back in the third quarter tonight. He was determined to get to the rim.”
Whitaker canned nine fourth quarter points on two baskets and five free throws down the stretch as the Rockets held Zeeland West to eight fourth quarter points while tossing in 17 points to secure the win.
“That would have been a tough game for us to lose. Both teams played hard,” Aardema said.
Whitaker led the Rockets with a game high 18 points, to go with five rebounds and four assists. Fellow sophomore Travis Ambrose chipped in with 12 points, while grabbing a team high nine rebounds despite being in foul trouble most of the evening and junior Kyle Schlaff hit for eight points and hauled down five rebounds.
Bergen Loeprich led the Zeeland West offense with a team high 15 points. Kylan Arnold tossed in 10 points.
Reeths-Puffer improves to 10-5 overall and sits all alone in second place in the OK Conference-Green with a 7-3 record. The Rockets will hit the road on Tuesday, February 15 as they travel across town to take on the Mona Shores Sailors.