Bucks enjoy being district champions
LEROY — Pine River junior Skyler Nelson had been thinking about a Class C district boys basketball title for a long time.
Friday night at Evart, his dreams turned into reality.
Nelson scored some key points in the waning moments of Pine River’s 59-52 boys basketball victory over McBain.
“It feels great. I love it,” Nelson said. “I’ve been waiting for this day a long time. I used to talk about this when we were little kids, me and Mitch McDonald. This was our dream.”
Devin Ruppert, a senior, was able to enjoy a 2-1 series edge this season over McBain. Going 1-1 during the regular season would mean a share of the Highland Conference title with the Ramblers. But on Friday, there would be no sharing.
“I tip off my hat to (McBain),” Ruppert said. “They worked their butts off. Their guys over their played their hardest.”
Former Pine River player Hunter Powell scored 23 points against his ex-teammates. Another former Pine River player from a year ago, Grant Gugle, also starts for McBain.
“They moved but we don’t disrespect them for it,” Ruppert said. “We just go out and play.”
But the third game of the series meant a trip to the regionals.
“We had to uneven the rivalry,” Ruppert said. When it came down to it, we played and well as we could.” Over the weekend the Bucks started focusing on the Class C regional in Traverse city, which started on Monday.
“We’re on to next week,” Ruppert said. “We’re celebrating but our thoughts are on regionals now.”
The Bucks were undefeated at one stage before suffering Highland losses to Beal City and McBain.
“At the beginning of the season, I think we were playing our best ball and then now,” Ruppert said. “We had a little bit of slump in the middle.”
Although the Bucks might have preferred a perfect record, Ruppert acknowledges the losses in the middle of the season may have been a blessing in disguise, in some respect.
“Those losses make you regroup and realize what you have to work on,” Ruppert said.
The district win was also sweet for Skyler Nelson, who missed the first four games of the season while recovering from a broken collarbone. Nelson hit some clutch free throws and field goals at the end.
“We picked it up on defense,” Nelson said. “We made all our free throws down the stretch.
Nelson sank a critical free throw with a one-and-the-bonus situation but was able to handle the pressure of the moment.
“I forgot about everything and I focused on free throws,” he said. “We’d always be in the gym and we’d say ‘you’re down by one in the district finals and you have to hit those to win.’ That’s what I was thinking of. I knew I was going to hit them.”
Nelson was confident of his free throw-shooting abilities.
“My first two got away from me but after that I was pretty good,” he said.
Nelson said by halfway in the season, he felt ready to go.
“Tonight we didn’t play at our best but we played well enough to win, that’s the main thing,” he said.
On facing former Pine River players, “we’ve always had a big rivalry with McBain,” Nelson said. “Having a couple of those guys going there, that intensified it and the rivalry got bigger.”
The Bucks had an impressive win over McBain early in the season but the Ramblers got revenge in their match. Senior Lincoln Erickson had emphasized that the Bucks were determined they wouldn’t lose to McBain again. Nelson agreed.
“We knew if we played like we could, this is how it would end up,” Nelson said. “We came out on top. We have to keep moving the ball around and play like a team which we have been doing very well lately and not being selfish. If we do that, we’ll be just fine.”
The Bucks lost Monday to Shelby but Friday’s win over McBain was one they’ll cherish for a long time.