The No. 3-ranked Grand Haven girls basketball team was too much for visiting Zeeland West as the two met Friday for a non-conference throwback game in the Pirates Pit at Lakeshore Middle School.
A competitive first quarter gave way to a mid-winter roasting as the Bucs fired the Dux for a 55-25 victory. Grand Haven led just 15-13 at the first break, before pulling ahead 29-16 at halftime and 44-22 heading into the final frame.
Rust was a factor for both squads after a week of canceled school on the Lakeshore, making for the tight first quarter.
“I was hoping for a better start,” said Grand Haven head coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer. “With the break this week we weren’t sharp defensively. We sent them to the foul line a bunch early. But, basketball is a game of runs and they were off all week, too, so it’s not much of an excuse. We wanted to make sure we got better tonight, and the girls shared the ball really well. We got everyone involved with some good inside-outside game. The kids took care of each other.”
Jolee Houle got the fire going with a pair of first-quarter 3-pointers, going on to bury four from beyond the arc to buoy a game-high 16 points against her former team. Alli Keyser tied the high, followed by Esther Byington with 10, Kelly Olthof with five, Olivia McMullen with four, and Ashlyn Hall and Jalen Greene with two apiece.
Kaylee Bakker led Zeeland with 13 points, followed by Lucy Bouvier with six, Aaliyah Ybarra with three, Marcy Creevy with two and Kayla Roberts with one.
Houle was dialed in from the jump, despite the game carrying extra significance for the junior guard, who transferred from Zeeland West to Grand Haven following her sophomore year.
“There was a lot of extra nerves going in,” she said. “You can’t just keep saying it is a normal game, because it’s not. My teammates and coach had my back, though, and got me the ball and I was feeling good. Ended up being one of those games where I shot well.”
The pregame nerves were quelled quickly as Houle scored the Bucs’ first points on a deep 3-pointer 40 seconds into the game, tying the game a 3-3 after Zeeland converted a three-point play on their first possession. Grand Haven never trailed again as Byington finished a three-point play of her own, followed by back-to-back 3-pointers from Houle and Keyser.
Despite the scoring pace, the Dux held strong through the first eight minutes, trailing by just two after the first quarter.
“I was really proud of how the girls came out unafraid and played hard,” said Zeeland West head coach Brooke Ross. “Grand Haven is a really talented team with a great record to prove that, but we didn’t back down. The girls played with confidence, moved the ball well and played great defense.
“There was a ton of energy out there tonight, and we didn’t really know what to expect because we’ve never played here before. The crowd was intense, but I think our girls really fed off of that in the first quarter.
It was the Bucs’ defense that took over in the second quarter, though as they held the Dux off the scoreboard for nearly seven minutes of play. Grand Haven made it a 14-0 run before Bakker made it to the foul line with 1:17 left in the half for a three-point chance. The three-point play would be Zeeland’s only points of the quarter to bring on a 29-16 halftime deficit.
It was more of the same in the third, with Houle kicking things off with a long jumpshot and the Grand Haven bigs dominating in the paint. Zeeland, meanwhile, struggled to find the bucket in the second half, hitting just three shots in the third quarter and one in the fourth. Bakker shouldered the workload, scoring six of Zeeland’s nine second-half points.
“She’s been progressing really well and she had another strong game tonight,” Ross said of Bakker. “She’s really been developing her ability to get to the basket from the outside, as well as finishing in the post area. She’s a tough defender and she’s great at blocking shots. She’s one of the girls that really thrives in an intense environment.”
Despite the lopsided score, the Dux battled to the end, reinforcing a tough identity coach Baker has come to love.
“We’re a gritty team this year, which is what you want as a coach. We are scrappy and we pride ourselves on our defense. We’d love to have a couple extra baskets to go in for time to time, but I’m really happy with how we are playing on the defensive end right now.”
The win moves Grand Haven to 12-0 on the season as they stare down a tough second round of conference games. They return to action Tuesday at West Ottawa. The Dux drop to 3-8 on the year and are scheduled to face rival Zeeland East Tuesday at home.