When Grand Haven varsity boys basketball coach Steve Hewitt scouted Fruitport a few weeks back, he saw a red-hot Trojans’ team blow away a very good Oakridge squad.
Hewitt, whose Buccaneers faced the Trojans in the semifinals of the Class A district tournament on Mona Shores on Wednesday, was concerned that Fruitport would offer a tough matchup for the Bucs.
It turns out Hewitt had nothing to worry about.
Grand Haven’s lock-down defense set the tone early, paving the way for a 49-26 win over Fruitport (9-12).
With the victory, the Bucs (12-10) advance to Friday’s district championship game against Muskegon (16-6), which beat Mona Shores on Wednesday, 65-42.
“I saw them a couple weeks ago and they did a really nice job against Oakridge,” Hewitt said of the Trojans. “But I felt our defense would give them some problems, particularly on the perimeter.”
The matchups were all in Grand Haven’s favor. The Bucs’ best defensive stoppers are guards Isaac Newhouse and Kevin LaCroix, and that pair was able to effectively neutralize Fruitport’s dynamic scoring tandem of Tyler Fehler and Aaron Veihl.
Fehler, who averages a team-high 14.4 points per game, was held without a field goal by the Bucs’ suffocating defense. He managed just a pair of free throws for two points.
Veihl, who averages 11 points per contest, scored just five.
The Bucs’ defense was so dominant early on, Fruitport managed to get off just two shots the entire first quarter, one of which was a driving layup off a steal by Veihl — the Trojans’ lone points in the quarter.
“Grand Haven is so fundamentally sound, and they’re a team that can grind it out offensively and defensively,” said Trojans’ coach Bill Andree. “Once we got off to a slow start, it was really a problem for us to get back into the game.
“Isaac Newhouse disrupts everything, he’s so strong. I knew that he could make things tough on us because of his on-ball presence. We really had trouble getting the ball into the paint.”
The Trojans didn’t help matters by turning the ball over 19 times.
The Buccaneers’ offense came primarily from point guard Sean Steffel, who lit up the scoreboard for nine first-half points and finished with a game-high 17.
Ty VanWieren added eight points, while Mac Carter and Ryan Peterson both scored six points, taking advantage of their ability to go inside against the smaller Trojans.
LaCroix added five points, knocking down the Bucs’ lone 3-pointer on the night.
Grand Haven led 21-12 at the half, then extended their lead to 38-18 in the third.
“We talked at halftime to getting back to moving the ball, and really just tried to get back to running our offense,” Hewitt said.
Amilio Flores led Fruitport with nine points.
Grand Haven will face a red-hot Muskegon team on Friday. This will mark the fourth consecutive year the Bucs and the Big Reds have met for the district title, with Grand Haven winning two of the previous three meetings.
The Big Reds have won nine of their last 10 games, with their only loss coming against a strong Zeeland East team. Four Muskegon players scored in double-figures against Mona Shores, led by Joeviair Kennedy and Jordan Waire with 14 points each.
Muskegon and Grand Haven faced off in Muskegon on Jan. 11, with the Big Reds pulling away late for a 55-48 win. In that game, Sean Steffel led the Bucs with 16 points and Ty VanWieren added 14.
Juwon Martin led Muskegon with 16 points, and Deshaun Thrower scored 15.
Hewitt thinks his team will be up for the challenge on Friday.
“This is a group that has been up and down all year,” he said. “They’re very capable of winning. We’re playing for a championship, and that’s what we’re always hoping to do.”