McDonald getting the job done in first season for Pine River

LEROY — Pine River coach Scott Benson had a lot of confidence in Mitch McDonald’s skills as a basketball player before the season started.

So far the Pine River freshman, who has been a key starter for his varsity team, has delivered.

“Based on this game, we’re playing really good,” McDonald said after the Bucks defeated Lake City 48-37 on Friday with the Pine River freshman scoring six points and dishing out three assists. “I think this is one of the best games we’ve played.”

Hustle has been the key behind his team’s success, McDonald indicated.

“Most games we have all five guys hustle,” he said, adding that as a freshman varsity player, “the guys have really welcomed me in and are helping me out at the varsity level. It’s been fun. They’ve made it fun for me.”

McDonald joined the team right at the start of preseason.

“I feel comfortable out there,” he said. “I’ve been playing with these guys since maybe fifth grade. They make me comfortable out there.”

McDonald said his role has been to distribute and shoot the ball and play tight defense.

“I like to play defense,” he said. “I love to steal the ball.”

As the season progresses, McDonald hopes to get better on his shooting.

“I need to work on my confidence,” he said, adding that as a team, “I think we’re capable of anything we set our minds to. If we pull ourselves together and play like this every night, I think our buckets will start to fall and it will all turn out good.”

Meanwhile, Pine River found the shooting touch in the nick of time Friday night.

Hunter Powell netted 11 points and Grant Gugle came off the bench and scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter in leading Pine River to a 48-37 Highland Conference boys basketball victory over Lake City.

Devin Ruppert added nine points on three 3-pointers for Pine River.

“It took us a little bit to figure out their zone,” McDonald said. “We finally worked around and finally found the weaknesses.”

With Pine River leading 23-20 at halftime, Drew Marion had three points to open the quarter for the Trojans. The Bucks, meanwhile, continued to struggle in shooting from the floor against the Trojan zone, while the visitors went on a 11-1 run.

When Mitch McDonald hit PR’s first field goal of the half with 50 seconds left in the third, it was 31-26, Trojans. Skyler Nelson hit a triple for the Bucks moments later.

Nolan Davenport, who had eight points in the quarter, scored just before the buzzer and Lake City led 33-29 going into the fourth. He also drew his fourth foul at 7:27 and went to the bench.

The Bucks led at 34-33 at 6:17 on two Mitch McDonald free throws. The two teams then waged an intense back-and-forth battle for the lead. Devin Ruppert’s layup at 3:12 made it 38-35, Bucks, and Ruppert added two free throws moments later, followed by a McDonald steal and layup for a 42-35 lead.

With 1:17 left, Gugle hit two technical foul free throws and added another on a regular foul call for a 46-37 lead.

“I want to give credit to my guards, they did a decent job,” said Pine River coach Scott Benson. “They were patient. We only had 12 turnovers. They sit in that zone. For the most part we really did a good job on the boards.”

Gugle acknowledged having a strange feeling shooting free throws with no one standing outside the lane.

“I shoot like 100 free throws at a shootaround thing and that helps a little bit,” he said. “I was still nervous but I knew I’d make them.”

Davenport also had a slap-happy block to open the fourth quarter. In the first quarter the Bucks fired out to a 5-0 lead before the Trojans found their touch. Drew Marion had a tip-in late in the quarter for a 13-7 lead.

Hunter Nelson helped the Bucks get back in the game with two field goals and Joey Bowman, from off the bench, hit three baskets to put the hosts in front. The game was tied 20-20 but Nelson netted his second triple of the quarter to give the Bucks the three-point halftime lead.

“I think our team pressure defense really helped,” McDonald said. “Grant, Joey, Skyler, Lincoln (Erickson) all of those guys pressure them. It was all-around team hustle.”

“We made the shots when we had to and got key steals,” Gugle said.

Pine River, 6-5 in the league and 11-6 overall, plays at Evart on Thursday.