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Grand Haven senior Avery Keefe handles the ball during Friday's game at West Ottawa.

It’s not how you start a game, but it’s how you finish that really matters.

The West Ottawa girls basketball team got off to a paltry start Friday night, but overcame that and ended easily coming away with a 44-30 win over Grand Haven. The Panthers started the night with just three points in the first quarter, and it seemed like the Bucs had all the momentum running in their direction.

Paul Chapman, West Ottawa’s coach, said his team made some uncharacteristic turnovers and praised Grand Haven for finding some flaws in their defense.

“They exposed us inside, they hit their post players inside, we couldn’t turn them over or get the game going up and down,” Chapman said. “ They just pounded us inside, credit to them.”

The Panthers got in gear quickly to start the second frame though, pulling within one point of the Bucs when the halftime horn sounded. In the second quarter, they held their opponent to just one point before a buzzer-beating prayer from just inside halfcourt was drained by junior Alyssa Hatzel.

Overall, in the middle frames of the game, the Panthers outscored Grand Haven 29-6 and took a 14 point lead into the final eight minutes of the game. That 16-minute run from the Panthers was powered, in large part, by senior Alyssa Karner. She finished the night with 16 points and junior Grace Pederson had 10 of her own.

Before the game started, West Ottawa honored Karner and Kaley Hendrick with some early senior night festivities. Champman said it was nice that she was able to have such a big impact on the night they celebrated her career.

“She’s been a big part of our program,” Chapman said. “Her and Kaley are both great kids, senior captains and kids you want to represent your school.”

It wasn’t just the offense that was working after the first quarter for the Panthers. The Bucs scored just two points in the third quarter of the game. West Ottawa made the switch from a full-court press to a zone defense early in the second frame.

They only allowed 18 total points in the rest of the game once the shift in strategy was implemented.

“We started playing more zone,” Chapman said. “I thought we got tired after pressing for a bit, so we went to a zone, that was [assistant coach] Corey VanRhee’s idea to go to zone. We played a couple of different types of zone and they were pretty effective, so we stuck with it.”

Grand Haven stormed back into the game in the final eight minutes though. With just over two minutes left to play, the Bucs had cut the Panthers’ lead to just seven points, with a chance to shrink it even more, down to five.

But that was as close as they’d get, as West Ottawa finished the night on a 7-0 run. Coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer said that she was disappointed in the lack of initiative her team took when they had a chance to claw back late in the fourth.

“We have a chance to hit a shot and maybe be in it, and we just don’t want the ball,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “I had kids playing scared and turning it over. I just felt we played very uninspired other than the first quarter.”

Grand Haven had 24 turnovers, many of which were came on mental mistakes and not by something West Ottawa did to pressure them. Even with some help from their opponent, the Panthers were still proud of the way they fought back after a tumultuous first eight minutes of the game.

West Ottawa’s mental fortitude to overcome a disastrous start gave their coach confidence as they head into the final stretch of the season.

“You got to be resilient,” Chapman said. “When things don’t go well, you have to be resilient and keep fighting and that’s what we did. This game honors toughness and we were tough.”

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