MUSKEGON — Montague had all sorts of problems hanging onto the ball Friday night, the biggest culprit in a 44-32 District Finals loss to Spring Lake.
The Wildcats turned the ball over 24 times against relentless Lakers pressure, several of them leading to easy buckets at the other end. Montague’s last lead came late in the second quarter when Emma Peterson’s three-point shot, the team’s only game, gave the Wildcats a 17-16 lead.
“Their pressure is something you have to deal with for 32 minutes,” Montague coach Nick Thaler said. We did a good job for 16 minutes, but you have to play a full game.
“We just did so many passes that we honestly didn’t practice in training. We were trying to throw the ball to a player who we think is open when he’s actually covered.”
Despite all of their offensive struggles, the Wildcats continued to push and were within striking distance a few times in the final quarter thanks to a more aggressive offensive strategy. However, Spring Lake made several grueling plays. A backdoor cut for an open layup answered a surge from Montague, and the Lakers scoring a fourth-chance field goal on another play prompted Thaler to call a timeout to stem the tide.
“I’m not sure what was going on there,” Thaler said. “It seemed like they wanted it more than us. He was also a backbreaker. She gets a rebound and throws it right over her head and it goes in somehow. It was a game that changed the momentum.”
The Lakers missed a few free throws late in the quarter to leave the door open for Montague, but the Wildcats committed a few turnovers and couldn’t take advantage of them. Montague’s last gasp came when Haylee Schwarz rushed to challenge a breakaway layup and the ‘Cats won the ball back, but again a giveaway on the other end snuffed out the potential for momentum.
It was hard to swallow for the top-seeded Wildcats, who entered the day with high hopes of a new district title and maybe more. But Thaler, still aware of the doubts his team faced when he resumed a program with only one starter returning from last year, said he was proud of what his team has achieved all year.
“I just told them I was proud of them as a team,” Thaler said. “When we started the season, a lot of people kind of wrote us off. We shouldn’t be hanging our heads over a 17-5 season. I don’t know how many 17-5 teams are on this side of the state, but I’m sure we’re one of the few.”
The experience equation won’t be much different next year, as Kendall Osborne will be the team’s only returning starter for the second straight year after the graduations of Brooke Stark, Emma Dyer and Meacham twins, Claire. and Maddie. The team’s style of play could change significantly with the departure of these last two, the Wildcats’ greatest players. However, there is a good group of young players waiting in the wings, and Thaler said the benefit of a full offseason – he was hired late last summer – should be a boost. .
“We have a lot of great pieces coming back,” Thaler said. “Our JV team was pretty good this year. We’re obviously going to look a bit different next year, but I’m delighted with the direction this program is taking.”
SPRING LAKE (44) Bajt 3 5-9 12, Judge 6 2-2 16, Schmitt 1 0-0 2, Andree 1 2-4 4, Bolthouse 0 1-2 1, Nices 0 1-2 1, Carter 4 0 -1 8. Totals 15 11-20 44.
MONTAGUE (32) Peterson 1 0-0 3, Dyer 1 0-1 2, Stark 0 2-4 2, Osborne 4 0-0 8, Schwarz 1 1-4 3, M. Meacham 0 3-4 3, C. Meacham 5 1-5 11. Totals 12 7-18 32.
Spring Lake…. 7 11 9 17 — 44
Montague…….10 7 5 10 — 32
Three-point goals – Spring Lake 3 (Bajt, Judge 2), Montague 1 (Peterson). Total Fouls – Spring Lake 17, Montague 18. Fouls – Dyer.