GRAND HAVEN TWP. — The Grand Haven girls basketball team entered Thursday night's non-conference matchup against Ludington looking for a tune-up in preparation for their Division 1 district opening showdown with No. 10 Muskegon on Monday.
Instead, the Buccaneers got pushed by a scrappy Orioles (12-8) squad in a game that remained up for grabs until the final minutes of regulation.
Grand Haven got just enough from their senior leaders down the stretch to escape with a 48-39 win at the Grand Haven Fieldhouse.
The Buccaneers were rolling early on, as they used balanced scoring to jump out to a 15-10 advantage after the first quarter. Ludington's pressure defense forced several ill-advised passes by Grand Haven in the second quarter, as the Bucs struggled to get anything going offensively.
The Orioles chipped away at the lead and held Grand Haven to just five points in the quarter, only trailing 20-18 at halftime.
Grand Haven would catch some traction in the third quarter, scoring 13 points to take a 33-26 lead into the final quarter of play. That momentum would be short-lived, however, as Ludington would answer on almost every possession.
The Orioles trailed 40-35 with three minutes remaining in the game, but Grand Haven would put a few quality defensive stops together and knock down 12-of-16 free throws for the game to hold off the upset bid by Ludington.
"We were hoping to take a step forward as a team tonight, but I really didn't think we did," said Grand Haven head coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer after the game. "It was an uninspired basketball game for us.
"We didn't box out well, we didn't play with much energy, and I thought Ludington really outplayed us for stretches of the game. It was good for us to get tested before the postseason starts, but I was hoping for a little more intensity from the girls."
Senior point guard Alli Keyser continued to add to her Buccaneer legacy with 20 points, three assists, three steals and three rebounds to lead Grand Haven. Fellow senior Kelly Olthof added 10 points, nine rebounds and three steals, while junior guard Jolee Houle had eight points and six assists.
"Alli played really well," said Kowalczyk-Fulmer. "She got to the rim in the fourth quarter and tried to manufacture some points when we were struggling there for a bit. Kelly played solid, as well. She was active on the boards, knocked down a few outside shots and played good defense in the post.
"I was happy to see Olivia (McMullen) and Mackenzie (Gross) do a nice job when they came in. That second wave of players that come into the game usually play good defense for us, so that's always nice when you don't lose much when you go to your bench."
Grand Haven will take on No. 10-ranked Muskegon (15-4) on Monday in the opening round of the Division 1 districts. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. at Reeths-Puffer High School.
The Big Reds are coming off a scare of their own from a Class C school, as Muskegon survived a 55-50 decision against No. 2 Kent City on Thursday night. However, neither the Bucs or Big Reds will dwell on those results with their seasons hanging in the balance in just four days.
"We know how important that game is going to be," said Kowalczyk-Fulmer. "Our entire season basically boils down to this one game. We know they are going to apply a lot of pressure and they have a lot of scorers. They compare to East Kentwood in a lot of ways, except they are a little smaller, but probably have better shooters on the perimeter.
"We know all their players and they know all of ours. Obviously, if you're going to beat Muskegon, you have to slow (Alyza) Winston down. They also have kids that can score in bunches like Diynasti Dowell in the post, so we have to make sure we are getting a hand in her face, too."
Junior varsity: Grand Haven defeated Ludington, 39-22. Zoe Spoelman scored 12 points to lead the Bucs, while Molly Long added 10 points and eight boards and Caydee Constant added seven points and six steals. The Buccaneers finish the season 12-6 overall and third in the O-K Red Conference standings.