Rockford’s regional semifinal game against Hudsonville was postponed on Monday due to a tornado warning, pushing the game to Tuesday. As a result,
Rockford’s path to a regional title meant a tougher challenge of winning two games in as many nights against O-K Red Conference foes.
The Rams (20-5 overall) surely didn’t look tired on Wednesday evening, and proof was in the success of their red-hot shooting. Rockford connected on a season-high 11 3-pointers against Grand Haven at Grandville High School — including five triples in the first quarter alone — and ended the Buccaneers’ minor Cinderella story in the postseason with a 57-41 victory.
The Rams advance to Tuesday’s Class A quarterfinal at Lansing Eastern High School, where they will battle Okemos.
Rockford players said they had played a couple Friday-Saturday back-to-back games during the regular season, but even then, they never shot as well then as they did Wednesday. Rockford connected on 11-of-19 from long distance (58 percent), and 21-of-39 overall (53 percent).
“I guess it’s something in the water,” Rockford coach Nick Allen said with a grin. “That’s the key difference from the last time we played (Grand Haven). We shot the ball well.”
Grand Haven held Rockford to just 41 points in their last meeting — a 43-41 Bucs’ upset on the Rams’ home court on Feb. 7. The Bucs’ lockdown defense from that game didn’t carry over to the third meeting, however.
“We did a better job getting on their shooters the last time,” said Bucs’ senior Alex Eidson, who scored a game-high 22 points in his final prep game. “We played with more intensity then. Tonight, I thought we played better defensively in the second half, but I don’t know what happened. They were just hitting a lot of tough shots.”
The first quarter was especially frustrating to Grand Haven, as the Rams built a 19-7 advantage, keyed by eight points from Alex Durkin. He was the only Rockford player in double figures with 14 points, although four others scored at least seven.
“We weren’t executing defensively what we worked on in practice,” said Grand Haven coach Steve Hewitt. “We guarded them pretty well the first two times and that was a huge talking point tonight. And to not do that, it’s disappointing.”
Rockford had several good looks due to the crafty play of point guard Chad Carlson. The speedy 5-foot-8 junior often drew a Bucs’ help defender to slow his dribble penetration, which left kick-outs to open shooters. Carlson led Rockford with five assists and he had no turnovers.
The hot shooting shifted from Durkin to teammate Chase Fairchild in the second quarter. He hit all three of his 3-pointers in that quarter, including a back-breaker right before the halftime buzzer. Carlson tracked down a long rebound off his own miss from 3, quickly reverse pivoted and rotated the ball to Fairchild, whose shot hit nothing but net.
Rockford’s lead swelled to a large as 20 in the third quarter, as the Bucs couldn’t string together enough stops to rally back.
Offensively, Eidson needed 26 shots to reach his 22 points and he was also just 1-of-6 from the free throw line. He didn’t receive much help in the scoring column, either, as the next highest Bucs’ scorers, Matt Kroll and Ethan Groothus, each totaled six.
“We struggled offensively and I think a lot of that was us trying to scramble back,” Hewitt said. “We’re so much better when we’re moving the ball and we didn’t do it tonight.”
Hewitt will have to replace six seniors from a squad that finished 14-11 and exceeded expectations all season, including a fourth-place finish in the O-K Red, a district title and a big upset of Petoskey in Monday’s regional semifinals.
“Nobody gave us much of a shot in the O-K Red, but we fared very well,” Hewitt said. “I’m happy with the way we closed out the season.”
Hewitt said it will be difficult losing Eidson, who he said has “so much passion for the game.”
“You need kids like that in your program,” Hewitt said. “Kids who love to play.”