Whenever Fruitport started to feel good about its chances of competing with Muskegon on Monday during their Class A quarterfinal contest at Grand Haven High School, the Big Reds would hit tough contested jumpers to put them back comfortably ahead.
Once the Trojans’ primary ball handler, Debbie Pekel, fouled out in the fourth, Fruitport’s chances were really down the tubes, as the Big Reds pulled away for a 72-51 victory to advance to Wednesday’s semifinals.
The Big Reds (14-7 overall) will face Cedar Springs, which received a first-round bye. Fruitport sees its season end at 6-14 overall.
“I’m real proud of the girls, not only the way they battled in the first quarter, but for the whole game,” said Fruitport head coach Bob German. “We had little streaks there where we broke down, but that’s one of the best teams we’ve faced all season.
“We hung with them early and I think that gave us some confidence.”
Fruitport trailed by just a 19-14 score after one quarter, but the Big Reds outscored the Trojans 18-8 in the second to take a comfortable lead into the locker room.
But the Trojans received a nice inside-outside effort from forward Francesca Cerniglia and guard Jessica Erny to fight back. German called Cerniglia “a beast” down low, as she finished with a double-double of 12 points and 16 rebounds.
“I felt like that was one of our keys, if we could get a body on them and rebound,” German said. “And ‘Cesca was just tremendous.”
Erny, who led the Trojans with 14 points, connected on a pair of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to bring the Trojans to within seven at 60-53, but Muskegon closed out the game with a fury.
“Every time we made a run and we thought we had them figured out, they’d come down and hit a pull-up jumper, and I’m thinking ‘I’d let them shoot that all night long,’” German said. “Muskegon had that answer all night.”
German also praised Pekel, who has performed wonderfully as the team’s primary ball handler all season.
“She’s our glue,” German said.
Pekel finished her final game with six points, four assists and four steals.
Mariada Cook led Muskegon with 18 points — one of three players to reach double figures.