Bucks overcome dramatic Wildcat comeback to stay undefeated in Highland Conference

LEROY — Pine River’s boys basketball team is still undefeated in the Highland Conference at 8-0 following a win at Manton Friday.

Thursday, the Bucks have a stiff test at McBain.

“It’s a key conference game for us to maintain our lead in the Highland,” said Pine River coach Brian Goodenow.” McBain currently has three losses in the league, Lake City has two, and Beal City is right on our heels with only one conference loss to us.”

Meanwhile, slow starts have been plaguing the Evart Wildcats for most of the boys basketball season.

That was the case again Tuesday (Jan,. 28) to the benefit of the Pine River Bucks. But a stunning Evart comeback almost put the Wildcats on top at the end.

Pine River fired out to a 26-4 first-quarter lead for the Bucks en route to a 72-63 Highland Conference victory last Tuesday night.

Mitchell McDonald had another big night with 22 points in leading the Bucks, 10-1 overall and 7-0 in the Highland.

Evart, 5-4 overall and 2-4 in the league, fell behind McBain 31-4 after the first quarter of the Wildcats’ most recent game and could never recover. This time, the Wildcats came back dramatically and actually led briefly in the fourth quarter against Pine River.

The Bucks fired out to a 10-1 lead and controlled the first-half momentum. McDonald hit two 3-pointers and had 14 points in the first eight minutes.

Nelson also hit a trey in the second quarter.

His team was trailing by 22 points after one but Evart coach Kris Morgan afterwards couldn’t explain the first-quarter blues.

“If we could answer that, we’ll be set,” Morgan said.

The Wildcats came back for a 16-12 edge in the second quarter with Cody Fournier and Thomas Hyde both hitting triples. Brandon Hoaglund had a big quarter for the Bucks with two triples and 10 points. It was 38-20 at halftime.

Chris Garner had three baskets and Fournier a triple early in the third to cut the Wildcat lead to 40-29. The Bucks weren’t able to hit their shots. When Garner scored his fifth basket of the third quarter, a frustrated Goodenow called for his second timeout of the quarter with his team’s lead down to 42-35. It was at five with Garner scoring inside moments later. Nelson’s 3-pointer, followed by his two free throws, gave the Buck some space at 47-37.

Larry VanBuren’s layin at the buzzer ended the third quarter with the Wildcats trailing only 49-43.

The Wildcats slowed down the Bucks running game and started forcing Pine River to play at Evart’s half-court tempo. The Bucks weren’t getting the open shots like they did in the first quarter. Garner had 14 points in the third.

“They were getting the ball inside to Garner,” Goodenow said. “We didn’t have anyone to guard him.”

“I don’t know too many people in the league that can stop him man-to-man without doubling him,” Morgan said. “I don’t think he realizes that because he hasn’t played so much. He went out against the league-leading team.”

Jared Pattee hit a free throw to make it a 51-47 score early in the fourth and Garner’s tie-in made it a two-point game moments later. Harris fouled out with Nolan VanOrder at the free-throw line for a free-throw to cut it to one. VanOrder’s triple with 5:55 to play capped the remarkable Wildcat comeback for a 53-51 Evart lead. Hoaglund’s jumper tied it at the other end and McDonald scored to put the Bucks back in the lead.

McDonald hit a three at 3:44 for a 60-55 Pine River lead. Hoaglund drove for a bucket for a 63-56 Pine River lead at 2:38. He followed with a triple moments later for a 66-56 advantage. McDonald scored off his own rebound at 1:20 for a 68-58 lead. The Bucks were able to put the game away at the free-throw line.

“In the first quarter, we were passing and moving the ball,” said Pine River senior Skyler Nelson. “(The fourth quarter) we knew we had to start playing basketball the right way. We started making a run.”

McDonald led Pine River in rebounding with eight boards while Hoaglund, who had 16 points, also had seven boards. McDonald also had nine assists and five steals. Hoaglund had four assists.

“I honestly think they had a rough night shooting,” Morgan said of Pine River’s second half. “I don’t know if it was anything we did. We tried to get out on their shooters and tried to play some man (and zone). I told my guys we don’t have any pressure. Pine River has all the pressure. We’re not supposed to win this game. “

Garner had 19 points for Evart, followed by Pattee with 12, VanOrder with 11 and Fournier with 10.

Garner grabbed 11 rebounds while VanOrder had 10. Pattee collected six rebounds and six assists Bowen had six steals.