The Grand Haven boys basketball team hoisted the Lakeshore Cup paddle trophy for the third straight year Saturday night with a total victory over Traverse City West on Friday night (47-34), and a gutsy win over Traverse City St. Francis on Saturday (40-35).
Friday’s win over the Titans featured a slow start for the Bucs, who fell behind 8-2 off the bat. From there, they rallied on defense for a 9-8 lead at the first break and pulled away with dominant post play and a dash of outside shooting.
Saturday’s victory featured a higher degree of difficulty, as the Gladiators lived up to their nicknames in an all-out physical battle. High foul counts, including a flagrant technical, labored defense and immense guard pressure from both teams added up to a slow-developing game.
A 9-7 lead for the Bucs at the first break set the tone. Despite runs for both squads, the two were never further than two points apart at a quarter break with Grand Haven leading 14-12 at halftime and 26-24 heading into the final period.
Solid execution by the Bucs, including a flurry of made free throws by Casey Constant and a final-possession steal by Mason Mahacek, took the Bucs from up one with just over a minute to play, to a five-point victory as the buzzer sounded.
“I give credit to St. Francis for how they played,” said Grand Haven head coach Greg Immink. “They dictated the tempo of the game, but we made a few gritty plays to get the win in the end with some rebounds, free throws and a big steal to seal it.
“It was kind of a slow game, and on top of that, there wasn’t a lot of good shooting going on. Points were at a premium. It was not the prettiest basketball to watch, but, I am good with the outcome.”
Constant continues to lead the way for Grand Haven as their go-to facilitator and scorer, earning tournament MVP honors for the Bucs’ side of the bracket. Saturday’s contest tested the depth of the roster, though, as Constant picked up two first-quarter fouls and was relegated to the bench.
“Casey is a three-year varsity player, an All-Conference type player,” Immink said. “He is someone who can make plays when they are needed and he did that for us this weekend.
“He got into some foul trouble against St. Francis, but Bryce (Taylor) stepped up and handled himself well. He is another three-year varsity player who can handle pressure situations. We also had Owen Worthington step in and do some ball handling.
“I was very happy with how we stepped up.”
The gritty performance capped a tough weekend of work for the Bucs, who are beginning to round into form as they approach the O-K Red Conference season.
“Saturday’s game was back-and-forth for the whole fourth quarter and we just made the right plays to come out on top,” Immink said. “Traditionally, our league is like that every night. The team that executes best down the stretch comes out on top by a few points. It was a good test for us.
“It was good for us to play a team like St. Francis who is disciplined and physical offensively and defensively and does things the right way. They were physical and strong and used that to their advantage. That is what we can expect out of the O-K Red.”
It isn’t just Grand Haven who has a tough conference slate to prepare for. Teams across the state seek out quality competition over Christmas break to stay sharp before taking on the meat of their seasons. The Lakeshore Cup began three years ago with a mind to satisfy that need.
“It was a great weekend of basketball,” Immink said of the tournament. “We had a lot of close games, which is what we wanted. We tried to get the matchups right to get competitive games. That is what every team wants this time of year. They want to play somebody different and they want to play somebody that is going to test them. That was the case for us and a lot of the teams this weekend.”
This year’s tournament featured an expanded field with two four-team divisions squaring off, complete with junior varsity bouts in Grand Haven’s auxiliary gym.
“I have a lot of really good friends in coaching,” Immink said. “Coaches that do things the right way and traditionally have good programs. We wanted to put something together to have them come down and celebrate that with some good basketball.
“Overall, it worked. It was a great weekend of basketball.”
While Grand Haven won their half of the tournament, Holland Christian took two wins over Glen Lake and Petoskey to claim the other title.
The Bucs will return to action on Friday on the road at Jenison, before opening up their conference schedule on Jan. 8 at West Ottawa. Their first home conference game will follow on Jan. 11, when they host Hudsonville.