SHEPHERD — The Central Montcalm Hornets and Belding Redskins boys basketball teams have had similar seasons this year.
Both the Hornets and Redskins struggled to win games, but battled hard and never gave up. Wednesday’s district semifinal games were more of the same for the two schools.
In the first game, the Hornets went up early, trailed by double digits, but fought to make it a game late in a 48-43 loss to the host Shepherd Bluejays in the Class B district semifinals.
Belding followed with a similar effort and result against the Alma Panthers. The Redskins trailed big early, got close, trailed big again, before a rally put the Panthers on the edge of their seats in a 52-43 loss.
Both teams finished the season 4-17 overall, but will return plenty of players next year to their respective teams.
Hornets get within five
Central Montcalm used a spirited effort early in the first quarter to take an 8-2 lead, with six of the points coming inside from Trevin Nemeth.
Shepherd’s Jordan Myers matched the effort of Nemeth as he rallied the Bluejays with an 8-2 run to close out the first. Both Nemeth and Myers scored eight points in the first quarter.
Shepherd (15-7) had the size advantage and they used it well with blocked shots and rebounds.
“Early on it got us over the hump. We got some blocked shots and rebounded,” Shepherd coach Ryan Huber said. “Central Montcalm battled and kept hanging around and we could not put them away.”
The Bluejays continued the momentum from the first quarter as they opened up a 22-11 advantage with under four minutes remaining in the half. In all, it was a 20-3 run over the first and second quarters that made the difference in the game.
“Tonight we played a lot better 32 minutes,” Kearney said. “We had that gap, but it didn’t get them down. Early in the year it would get us down and we would lose pretty badly.”
The Hornets hit the final two shots of the half to trail 22-14.
Shepherd extended its lead to 30-18 on a basket by Josh Ledbetter midway through the third quarter.
Shortly afterward, Lane Ledford scored and on the return trip down the court, Ledbetter picked up a technical foul.
Central Montcalm made one of the free throws and scored with the next possession to pull within six points. Later, another Ledford basket pulled the Hornets to within five at 32-27.
“The kids battle and I’m very proud of them,” Kearney said. “It was a great group of seniors and our young kids did a great job. We just need to get more weight on us. This was a great game for us and the program. We don’t like to lose, but they are a good team and we battled until the end.”
Shepherd led 38-30 after three quarters. They held that lead for the remainder of the game.
Nemeth hit a three-pointer at the end to make the final score 48-43.
The Bluejays, with their size advantage, shot 27 free throws to the just six for the Hornets. Clearly, the biggest advantage of the game was 14 more made free throws for the Bluejays.
“We quit taking the ball to the bucket. Our whole thing was, they are so much bigger than us, we had to take it to the basket and get them to commit fouls,” Hornets coach John Kearney said. “We had to go strong and not alter our shot. Blocks happen.”
Nemeth led the Hornets with 14 points, while Ledford added 11 points.
Ledbetter scored 20 for the Bluejays.
Redskins trail early
If only the Belding Redskins could start the game, or half, they way they finish.
Alma jumped out to a 14-1 lead in the first quarter. The Redskins responded with a 12-2 run to close out the first quarter and trailed just 16-13.
“I think it took us a few minutes to get the jitters out,” Belding coach Jeff Wierzbicki said. “We missed some easy bunnies (baskets) that we usually make, especially this late in the season.”
Belding never took the lead in the second quarter, but kept the game close and trailed 28-24 at halftime.
“After we got under control, the rest of the first quarter and second quarter was fantastic,” Wierzbicki said. “We played hard. Our pressure got to them and we were able to get some easy baskets.”
Belding started the second half slow, as well. This time the lapse lasted the entire quarter as the Redskins managed just two points (free throws by Brenden Zuver) and were outscored 12-2.
“We came out in a little different defense and they were able to grab some offensive rebounds and score baskets,” Wierzbicki said. “I switched back to what was working in the first half and it took us a little while to rebound. The two points hurt.”
Alma (14-7) led 40-26 after the third quarter and led 46-30 before the Redskins found new life.
“The third quarter we only scored two points, but luckily we were still in the game,” Wierzbicki said. “We were able to pull it back to a six point game with an opportunity to make it four points, but it didn’t happen.”
Down 46-32, Belding junior Garrett Strotheide scored eight consecutive points to pull the Redskins within 46-40 with 2:23 remaining in the game.”
Belding had the chance to make it a four point game, but missed two free throws. Alma grabbed the offensive rebound and made free throws down the stretch to seal the game.
“I’m proud of the guys. They played hard and played smart,” Wierzbicki said. “We have been a 40 to 50 point team all year. We have to get over that hump next year to 50 or 60 points.”
Strotheide finished with a team-high 14 points. Zuver and Kole Hart each scored 10 points.
Kyle Slagell scored 16 points to lead Alma. Josh Moody, Brett Green and Tim DeJong each scored 10 points.
Shepherd will host Alma on Friday at 7 p.m. in the district final.