Five fighting for title

UP FOR GRABS: Reed City’s Jake Vincent (left) and Kyle Wright battle for a rebound against Clare during the the Class B district semifinal. (Herald Review photo/Bob Allan)
UP FOR GRABS: Reed City’s Jake Vincent (left) and Kyle Wright battle for a rebound against Clare during the the Class B district semifinal. (Herald Review photo/Bob Allan)

Big Rapids vs. Reed City showdown highlights big night in hoops

BIG RAPIDS — When Big Rapids and Reed City meet on the hardwood, it’s a given that the game is going to be an intense battle. Those battles have been amplified the past two postseasons, as Reed City topped the Cardinals two season ago in the district semifinal before Big Rapids returned the favor last season in capturing a district title over the Coyotes. Reed City coach Dean McGuire knows energy and emotion run high in the rivalry contest, which will make playing with a calm presence on the floor a key for his team in the 7 p.m. contest tonight at Big Rapids High School. “I think regardless of who you play in a district final, your energy level is going to be high,” he said. “Throw in that it’s Big Rapids and that energy is multiplied exponentially. Our focus has to be on staying calm and not being too amped up out of the gate.” McGuire said managing the emotions of his team will be important. The Coyotes led the second contest against Big Rapids earlier this season before the Cardinals ultimately pulled out the 80-71 win. “If Big Rapids gets a big lead early, we need to know that we can’t panic,” he said. “The second time we played them, I thought we got too excited when we took the lead at home. We need to remember to not get too high or too low.” Big Rapids coach Kent Ingles said when the two teams meet emotions are tough to control, which can lead to a lack of focus on the offensive end of the court. That will make converting when his team gets easy scoring opportunities a huge factor in tonight’s final. “At some point, somebody is going to have to make some points,” he said. “Easy baskets, transition baskets, second-chance baskets because you aren’t going to get a lot of points out of offensive sets.” The Cardinals and Coyotes are two of five local teams competing for district titles tonight.  

Class C at Morley Stanwood Morley Stanwood vs. Kent City

In the Class C district final at Morley Stanwood High School, the host Mohawks (15-7) will look to capture the program’s first district title since 2004. The Mohawks will battle a Kent City (8-13) team that coach Josh Bull says is better than their record indicates. The Eagles face a tough schedule in the OK Silver Conference out of West Michigan, competing against state powers like Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian and Grandville Calvin Christian. Bull said Kent City likes to keep the game uptempo with pressure on the defensive end and a fast-paced offense. Austin Thompson, the son of head coach Mark Thompson, leads the way for the Eagles, while Jake Krueger is another player to watch heading into the final. “They run the flex offense and a lot of the things they do are predicated on pressure,” Bull said. “They remind me a lot of Reed City with the zone and man traps and they try to push the tempo. They are one pass and fire it (offense) — they’re not going to spread the floor and pass the ball a lot.” Bull said a key for his team will be establishing the tempo of the game on the Mohawks’ home court. “We have to rebound well and get to the free throw line,” he said. “One of our staples this year is that we’ve shot 69 percent from the line and we’re one of the better teams in the area in that. If we can do that and finish in transition, that’s a big key for us.”  

Class C at Evart Pine River vs. McBain

Pine River (19-2) will face a familiar foe in its district final tonight against McBain. The two rivals split during the regular season while sharing the Highland Conference title. The Bucks enter tonight’s final at Evart High School behind a high-powered offense predicated on spreading the ball around, coach Brian Goodenow said. A key for Pine River will be continuing to limit turnovers against the Ramblers. The Bucks turned the ball over just eight times in Wednesday’s win over Lake City, while committing just nine miscues in Monday’s win over Evart. Taking care of the basketball has been the result of a team that has continually shown focus throughout the season. “That’s going to be a key for us — maintaining that same focus and intensity,” he said. “We’ve distributed the ball well in both of our district games with 20+ assists in both games. These guys are very workmanlike — they know that every game from here on out could be their last.”  

Class D at Baldwin Baldwin vs. Manistee Catholic Central

Baldwin (17-4) enters its district final looking to avenge a pair of tough losses to league nemesis Manistee Catholic Central. Those losses also proved to be the difference in the Sabers capturing the West Michigan D League crown over the Panthers. Baldwin is playing for its first district title since 2002 while MCC is shooting for three in the last four years. That should provide Baldwin with plenty of motivation heading into the final. “They beat us twice, so they’re the champs,” Baldwin coach Scott Pedigo said. “They’re the D League champs and we’re the underdogs. I think I’d rather be in that role. I think it’s easier to motivate your kids after losing twice than after winning twice.” MCC beat Baldwin 53-50 in overtime on Jan. 18 despite losing leading scorer Zack Bialik, who averages 23 points a game, to a sprained ankle in the second quarter. The Sabers completed the regular season sweep with a 54-46 win at Baldwin on Feb. 22. It’s quite fitting that in a district featuring all West Michigan D League teams, the top two in the regular season standings will square off tonight for a postseason title. “There’s a lot of districts out there where the championship is played on Monday,” Pedigo said. “I think this would be one of the true ones where the championship is played on Friday.” Pioneer Prep Editor Bob Allan and Manistee News Advocate Sports Editor Matt Wenzel contributed to this story.