By Greg Gielczyk
SCOTTVILLE — Wren Nelson scored four points in the final four minutes of the game to lift Mason County Central to a thrilling 39-32 victory over Montague at home Tuesday night.
It was a matchup of two founding members of the West Michigan Conference, but with each aligned in different divisions after expansion this year, with the Spartans in the Rivers Division and the Wildcats in the Lakes.
“I was proud of my girls for how they stuck together. We got the job done,” said Spartans head coach Mike Weinert. “We’re young, and we have not always pulled games like that together.
“We haven’t had a lot of chances to. A lot of them, we’ve outscored people by quite a few. The other ones, we weren’t quite there, yet.”
Montague had worked into a 32-32 tie with the Spatans after just more than four minutes had elapsed in the fourth quarter, but the Spartans took the lead for good, 37-32 with 1:23 left.
The Wildcats had little choice but to foul the Spartans, and frequently, in the final moments in hopes of stopping the clock and potentially getting the ball back on a defensive rebound.
But up to that point the Wildcats had been called for just one foul, so it wasn’t until 28 seconds remained that the Spartans finally went to the free throw line.
It was too late by then to do any good.
Nelson penetrated the lane and popped in a shot that seemed to take forever to drop through the net that gave Central a 34-32 edge.
Montague fouled Eva Hradel, and when she sank one of two shots it pushed the Spartans lead out to three, 35-32 at the 3:16 mark.
Working time off the clock became paramount for the Spartans, and they expertly executed on offense to shave nearly a minute off before Wren Nelson scored off a pass from Charlie Nelson to build the Spartans’ lead to 37-32 with only 1:23 to play.
Playing without star Kendall Osborne, out with an injury, the Wildcats still managed to hang with the Spartans, weathering an 8-0 run in the third quarter that gave Central an eight-point lead, 26-18.
Emma Peterson rolled in for a layup that ended the Spartans’ surge for the Wildcats, and Britta Johnson answered Riley Mast buried a 3-point hoop to keep it a two-possession game.
Montague narrowed the margin to three, 28-25 when Peterson swished a pair of free throws. She stole the inbounds pass after the second one and just missed a shot that would have beaten the buzzer.
Central took a slight 6-3 lead at the end of the first quarter, and each team had 13 in the second to maintain that three-point edge, 19-16 at the half when the Spartans closed the second quarter with a 7-3 run.
“We’ve been working on some things just to get through pressure,” Weinert said. “We know that people are going to go after Mallory (Miller) and Jessica (Petersen).
Wren Nelson finished the game with a double double, scoring 11 points and hauled down 12 rebounds, to lead the Spartans. Charlie Banks also scored in double figures with 10 points. The Spartans made 8-of-10 free throws.
Emma Peterssen topped the Wildcats in scoring with nine points. while Johnson added eight and Pranger contributed six. The Wildcats were 4-of-13 at the free throw line.
Mason County Central (13-2, 7-1) will travel to Ravenna next Tuesday.
Montague (9-6, 6-2) will host Ludington on Thursday.