The Buccaneers outscored the Lady Northmen by an 18-6 margin in the third and finished the contest shooting a red-hot 47 percent from the field in their comfortable 52-23 victory.
The win improves Grand Haven’s season record to a sparkling 23-1. The Bucs will face Grand Rapids Northview for the regional title on Thursday at Rockford High School. Northview (16-7 overall) defeated O-K Red Conference school West Ottawa in the other half of the regional bracket on Tuesday, 44-39.
“It’s just so awesome. So awesome,” said Grand Haven senior forward Kaeding Skelton, who scored three straight low-post buckets to ignite the Bucs’ outstanding third quarter. “Last year we had something magical; but right now, I feel so good about this team. With how well we played tonight, I feel even better.”
Skelton isn’t the only one feeling some good vibes with the Bucs, who advanced to the state semifinals last winter.
Head coach Katie Kowalcyzk-Fulmer said she loved the way her team shared the basketball against Petoskey, which set up several easy looks and turned a tight score after one quarter into a blowout in the second half. The Northmen were making their first regional appearance since moving from Class B to Class A in 2002.
“We knew Petoskey was a pretty good defensive team coming in, so we wanted to make sure we made the extra pass and not just cram it down to (6-foot-5 center) Abby (Cole) every time,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “And I thought we did a good job of finding the open person and taking the extra pass. As the game went on, we seemed to gain more confidence with our shots.”
Bucs’ senior wing Alex Law continued her lethal stroke from 3-point land on Tuesday. She connected on 4-of-7 shots from long distance and led all scorers with 14 points. Her two triples in the first quarter helped the Bucs overcome a shaky start, as they adjusted to Petoskey’s physical man-to-man defense.
For more photos of Tuesday's game, click here.
The Northmen couldn’t account for Law’s shooting range, however.
“They hit a lot of shots. I see why they’re ranked No. 1,” said Petoskey coach Adam Dobrowolski, whose squad finishes at 14-10. “We knew Law was their shooter and we had to get our hands up in her face. But we had a hard time when they set those screens. We had a hard time getting over the top. With the range she has, we really didn’t get our help defenders out to contest her shots.”
Kowalczyk-Fulmer is used to seeing Law sparkle from long range, but even she’s been impressed with Law’s shooting lately.
“I looked at her stats recently and she’s hitting 44 percent from the 3-point line,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said.
Grand Haven point guard Shar’Rae Davis played her best stretch during the final three minutes of the second quarter, in which Grand Haven’s lead first reached double-digits.
She converted a steal off some brief Bucs’ full court pressure into an easy layup; she drove the lane and dished out to a wide-open Jordan Keefe, who drilled the jumper; and she connected on a 3-pointer from the wing, giving Grand Haven a 24-13 halftime lead.
Davis finished with nine points, six assists and six rebounds.
“She obviously makes people better,” Kowalcyzk-Fulmer said. “She played a good floor game tonight.”
With Grand Haven’s lead escalating, Petoskey showed a bit of frustration late in the third, as Northmen guard Kelsey Ance sent the petite Keefe flying to the floor with a blatant illegal screen.
The Bucs simply responded by drilling more open shots, including a pair of jumpers by Megan Newhouse and a 3-pointer by sophomore Taylor Craymer.
“Last year I primarily played in the post, and in AAU I played in the post, but I’ve been asked to play more outside this year,” said Craymer, who scored five points. “I get to work on my (outside) shot more, so I like it.”
Kowalczyk-Fulmer liked the Bucs’ defense, which held Petoskey to just seven total field goals. The Northmen’s 6-foot-3 center, Megan Tompkins, led her team with eight points.
“Their physicality defensively turned us more into a perimeter-orientated team, which we didn’t want,” Dobrowolski said.
Cole and Cassie Holwerda did a good job of clogging up the paint. The Bucs’ low post duo also grabbed seven and five rebounds, respectively.