In a game of runs, the visiting Buccaneers turned in the most impressive spurt when it mattered the most, as they outscored host Grand Rapids Catholic Central 20-3 to close out the contest and post an impressive 44-35 victory Tuesday evening.
“I’m so proud of my team,” said Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer, whose squad is now 9-1 overall. “Everyone contributed tonight. Everyone who came off the bench played great defense and executed the game plan. It’s a big win for our program.”
For the powerful Cougars (10-1 overall), it was their first loss this season and just their second loss to any team from West Michigan in the last four years. GRCC, which entered the contest ranked No. 2 in Class B, is arguably the most decorated girls program on this side of the state, having won a state title in 2010 and finishing runner-up in 2009.
“They’re probably favorites to win it all again this year,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said.
That’s what made Grand Haven’s victory — and their startling fourth-quarter comeback — even more impressive.
The Buccaneers’ man-to-man defense was stellar throughout, holding a Cougars’ squad that entered averaging 50 points a game to just nine at the half. Grand Haven had a 12-9 lead at the break, but the Cougars roared ahead, outscoring the Bucs 17-10 behind a pair of 3-pointers from Addie Johnson and stellar play from 6-foot-1 senior standout Tiesha Stokes.
The Cougars maintained a 26-22 lead with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Bucs — notably senior wing Alex Law — elevated their game to another level from that point.
Law drained two huge 3-pointers to spark the Bucs’ rally and also completed an old-fashioned three-point play during the frantic comeback.
“Those 3’s Alex hit were crazy deep,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer noted. “She had one of her best performances of her career.”
Law scored 12 of her game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, and finished the contest hitting 8-of-9 field goals.
But Law was just one piece of the Bucs’ breakthrough. Point guard Shar’Rae Davis made four clutch free throws and 5-foot-5 senior guard Jordan Keefe canned a huge baseline jumper that put Grand Haven up three with around two mintues left.
It was Keefe’s only basket of the game and arguably her biggest of her career.
“That was big, because that puts us up three, and Catholic Central’s coming down firing up desperation shots trying to tie it back up,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said.
GRCC was forced into desperation long-range shots because of the interior defense played by Bucs’ junior center Abby Cole. The 6-foot-5 Cole had 11 points, five rebounds and a staggering 10 blocked shots.
“Stokes had eight points in the fourth, but those last 3-4 possessions, Abby shut her down. She blocked everything,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said.
Grand Haven’s defense stood out from top to bottom. Law and sophomore Taylor Craymer held GRCC double-digit scorer Shellis Hampton to just four points, while Johnson was held in check in the fourth by senior Megan Newhouse.
Johnson scored 10 for GRCC, while Stokes, a two-time Class B All-State selection, led her team with 19.
Despite not making a field goal, Bucs’ point guard Shar’Rae Davis led her team with six rebounds and six assists.
Overall, Kowalczyk-Fulmer said the win is simply huge for her team going forward.
“It’s such a long season and we’re always trying to find ways to get better,” she said. “Tonight, we got better. We could have easily folded being down in the fourth quarter on the road, especially against a team like Catholic Central that just doesn’t turn it over that often.
It was such a physical game, you wouldn’t believe it. But we gave it right back to them. It was just a great win.”