Visiting East Kentwood fell behind 3-2 in the first quarter to host Grand Haven and then never trailed again, handing the Buccaneers a startling early-season wake-up call, 45-36.
The last team to defeat Grand Haven in the regular season was Grandville on Feb. 2, 2010. The Bucs ran the table a year ago, including a pair of tough victories over the Falcons.
It was a fact that wasn’t overlooked by Falcons’ head coach Jimmy Carter, who said he believed in the preseason that an upset over the defending Class A semifinalists from Grand Haven was possible.
Carter’s players backed up his vision.
“It shows that hard work pays off and belief pays off. The kids are starting to believe,” he said. “Most of the teams we play in the O-K Red, we try to disrupt what they’re trying to run. If we have the athletes and have the players, then we plan accordingly.”
East Kentwood disrupted what Grand Haven was trying to accomplish and the Falcons did it with exceptional speed, pressure defense and clutch shooting. The Falcons benefitted heavily, however, from a dreadful shooting night from the Bucs, which included a 2-of-21 showing from beyond the 3-point line.
“You obviously never want to lose, but I told them this loss isn’t a bad thing,” said Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer, whose squad is now 4-1. “It’s better this happened now than in March. Last year, we didn’t have these games where we couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean. Tonight, we struggled to shoot, and a lot of times, we were one-and-done.”
Despite their shooting struggles, Grand Haven was within striking distance at the half, trailing by a 16-13 score. But the Bucs could never get a rhythm going offensively.
“We had some kids struggle tonight,” Kowalcyzk-Fulmer said. “Alew Law played hurt (a sore ankle) and she probably shouldn’t have played, but she wanted to play. But she was 1-of-11 from 3-point land.
“East Kentwood shot the ball very well,” she added. “I thought their post players played really well. They’ve got a lot of kids that can score.”
The Falcons had five players score five or more points, led by guard Chrijauan Carter’s 11.
Grand Haven went nearly six minutes without a field goal in the third. The Falcons’ speed defensively seemed to make the Bucs rush everything, which resulted in poor passes into the post and a handful of missed layups.
“They’re a really talented team,” said Grand Haven senior Jordan Keefe, who grabbed eight rebounds and played exceptional defense off the bench. “We tried to focus on their press in practice, but tonight we just had a tough shooting night.”
Still, when Bucs’ center Abby Cole sank a short jumper with 2:37 left in the third, Grand Haven only trailed by a 20-15 score.
But the Falcons saved their most clutch shooting at the most important time — down the stretch.
A short jumper by Grand Haven’s Shar’Rae Davis drew the Bucs to within 29-23 with under 5 minutes remaining, but the Falcons caught the Bucs a tad slow in their transition defense and made them pay.
Senior Christina Thurber drilled a huge corner 3-pointer, and after a Law miss on the other end, the Falcons pushed ahead again and found center Khadijah Seawood open for a 10-footer that gave Kentwood its largest lead at 34-23.
“Our transition ‘D’ wasn’t good,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “They went over the top (on our full-court press) and they were knocking down the 10- to 12-foot baseline jumper.”
Davis, who has battled a cold for the past two weeks, also struggled with her shot for most of the contest, but tried to will the Bucs back. Her straight-away 3-pointer with 3 minutes left bounced on the rim twice and fell through, drawing the Bucs to within six. She scored 11 of her team-high 13 points in the fourth.
The closest Grand Haven got was 41-36 with 1:32 to play, but a tough over-the-back call gave the Falcons a trip to the free throw line on the other end.
Senior Kaeding Skelton grabbed 12 rebounds for the Bucs. Cole had six blocked shots, five rebounds and eight points, and Davis swiped six steals.
The level of competition won’t drop for the Bucs’ next opponent — Detroit Martin Luther King at Detroit Country Day High School on Dec. 30.
“You always take the good out of a loss,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “We will be better in that game (against MLK) because of this loss tonight.”
Junior Varsity: Grand Haven dominated East Kentwood on Friday, winning 51-7. Krysteena Davis scored 10 points while Jami Hogeboom added nine points and six assists. Mallory Beswick chipped in with seven points and six steals.