Bucs bound for the 'ship

Duncan MacLean • Oct 29, 2016 at 12:15 AM

JENISON— Friday’s victory over East Grand Rapids seems like a routine win for the Grand Haven boys water polo team, but their sixth victory over the Pioneers this season had special significance. It guaranteed them a spot in the state championship tournament in November.

“The way be played today, everyone showed up,” said Grand Haven standout junior Mason Fritz. “Our team was scoring across the board. It was pretty cool.”

The Bucs racked up 15 goals to EGR’s five in the opening round of the MHSAA West regional tournament at Jenison High School. Seven players tallied goals for Grand Haven in the win.

Rough water early could have capsized Grand Haven’s game; the Pioneers grabbed first blood, scoring just 21 seconds into the first quarter.

“They came out very hard and were well coached. They came out with a game plan that worked,” said Grand Haven coach Bill Hamm on the early deficit. “I reminded the boys they know how to swim and beat their drivers, that was really all we had to do.”

The Bucs stuffed EGR down into the gallows with lockdown defense for the remainder of the game. Once they had the Pioneers subdued; the cannons began to fire.

Joshua Koornneef capitalized on a close-cage rebound for the Bucs first goal, quickly followed by a textbook turn and shoot courtesy of Fritz.

The first quarter concluded with Grand Haven leading, 2-1.

Jordan DeVries opened up the second quarter with a goal, followed by Eli VandenBrand just 35 seconds later, putting Grand Haven up, 4-1.

After an EGR timeout and failed man-up opportunity the Bucs converted their fifth goal at the hands of Grant Ruster with 2:52 remaining in the first half.

EGR answered Ruster’s goal with their only score from the whole-set position with 1:33 left before the break.

Giving up momentum going into halftime was not part of Grand Haven’s game plan; VandenBrand netted his second of the day with less than one minute left. The game went to intermission with the Bucs leading, 6-2.

In the third quarter, the Bucs went on a scoring tear, netting five goals in just over five minutes. Fritz kicked off the push 40 seconds into the half, after a blocked five-meter penalty shot, Jordan DeVries found the net with 4:40 left in the quarter. Koornneef and Fritz both cashed in another as well as first time scorer John Hoffman, who ballooned the Grand Haven lead to 11-3.

The final quarter saw two more Bucs tally their first score of the weekend, Nick Wilson and Matthew Beals both found the net for their share of the plunder. Fritz added another pair of goals to his stellar game, bringing the final tally to 15-5.

“I think they were really out to get us,” Fritz said. “We beat them all season, so they were looking for it.”

The victory earns Grand Haven an automatic bid to compete with the final eight teams in Michigan.

“It’s a wonderful feeling, that’s the only goal — to make it back to the state meet,” Hamm said. “It’s the only way we could do better than last year.”

The remaining rounds of the district tournament merely determine seeding for the state championship tournament on Nov. 11-2.

The Bucs move on to play Zeeland this morning at 9 a.m. in a district rematch from Oct. 22. Zeeland defeated a depleted Grand Haven roster by one goal, 10-11, to send them to the district third-place game.

“We are pumped to get back at them,” Fritz said of the impending rematch. “We had some sickness going around, so we weren’t full bench, full starters when we played at districts. Now we are ready, we are all good to go. We’re pumped.”

“I feel great, we’ve been even with Zeeland all year long, it’s going to be a fun game to watch, they’re both going to play hard. Whoever comes out most intense for the first 14 minutes if probably going to win,” Hamm said. “Defense, defense. If we shut them down and don’t let them shoot from outside, we will be fine.

The two meet in the regional semifinal, playing for a stake in the regional championship. The loser will head to the third-place game against the loser of Rockford and Hudsonville.

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