Despite that recent run of success for Muskegon, this year's matchup felt different.
The Buccaneers had already beaten the Big Reds back in December and seemed to match up well with the program that has established a district dynasty in the Class A ranks.
However, a slow start and a few empty offensive possessions late cost the Buccaneers in their bid to snap their postseason losing streak, as Grand Haven fell to the Big Reds 50-41 in the Class A district finals on Friday at Reeths-Puffer High School.
"We had a little difficulty scoring at times," said Grand Haven head coach Greg Immink. "You have to give Muskegon a lot of credit, they lock down a lot of teams with their pressure and they made every shot difficult for us. We had a couple opportunities early on in the game around the rim that didn't fall for us. It felt like whenever we needed a big play to swing the momentum in our direction, we couldn't get it to fall.
"The guys did a great job of following the scouting report we put together, and I thought our defense was outstanding. We made it tough on them to run their stuff, but our offense just wasn't enough to get us over the hump."
Senior forward Kellum Bridgeforth scored 11 second-half points to lead the Bucs (14-8), while fellow senior guard Dimitrius Neely added 10. Junior guard Bryce Taylor scored the Buccaneers' first five points of the game and finished with seven, while senior guard Tucker Beland added two 3-pointers to finish with six points in his final game as a Buccaneer.
Eonte Tornes led the Big Reds (19-3) with 14 points.
"Our seniors left their hearts on the floor tonight," added Immink. "That's the type of people they are, and we are really going to miss that in our program. That was a tough way to go out. This was a team that I really enjoyed coaching. Our seniors were a bunch of hard-working guys that just went out there every night and competed.
"Muskegon is a top-tier program. They are always going to have good teams, but I thought we really battled with them in both games this season. I'm proud of the work that's been done in our program over the last three years between our players and coaches and this senior class has been a big part of that."
The Buccaneers have often started games slowly, and that was once again the case on Friday.
The Big Reds turned defensive rebounds into transition buckets early on, with Willie Shanks Jr. and Tornes each getting to the rim to help Muskegon jump out to a 9-0 lead.
After a timeout from Immink, the Buccaneers settled down on offense and found their rhythm. Grand Haven would close out the quarter on an 11-0 run to tie the game at 11-11 heading into the second quarter of play.
The Big Reds would continue to drive and kick on offense, while the Buccaneers would struggle to get anything going on the other end due to Muskegon's extended defensive pressure.
With no open shots on the perimeter and contested shots at the rim not netting much success, Grand Haven fell behind 23-13 at the halftime break.
In the third quarter, the Big Reds feasted on some Grand Haven turnovers to push their lead to 30-15.
The Buccaneers would knock down a few three-pointers, but the Big Reds had an answer at every turn, taking a 37-23 lead into the final quarter of play.
Grand Haven would display their toughness while facing adversity in the form of a double-digit deficit, and came storming back thanks to a full-court, man-to-man defense and some specular individual scoring efforts from Bridgeforth and Neely.
A corner three-pointer from Bridgeforth and another long-range bomb from Beland would cut the Muskegon lead to 45-40 with 40 seconds left in the game.
However, the Big Reds would ice the game at the free throw line and fend off any last-ditch efforts from the Buccaneers the rest of the way to bring the game to a conclusion.
"It's tough to come back against anybody, especially a team the caliber of Muskegon," added Immink. "I think we played a little too tight early on. I don't know if we were nervous or what, but once we got going, we played pretty well on that side of the court.
"In that first matchup, I think we got off to a better start than we did tonight. They also didn't play defense as intensely in that first game as they did tonight. We were also missing our starting point guard (Casey Constant) tonight, which affects us, as well."
Muskegon advances to face Grand Rapids Christian (14-9) in the regional semifinals on Monday at Grandville High School. The winner of that matchup will play the winner of West Ottawa (21-2) and Forest Hills Northern (16-7) in Wednesday's regional finals.