Bucks win back-to-back Highland titles with 74-43 winEVART — Pine River came into Tuesday’s Highland Conference boys basketball contest against Evart knowing all that stood in its way of a second-straight conference title was the Wildcats. With their goal right in front of them, the Bucks (17-2, 13-0 Highland) took care of business with a 74-43 victory over the Wildcats (8-10, 5-7 Highland) to clinch back-to-back Highland titles after not winning a title the previous 12 seasons. “We worked hard all season to be Highland Conference champs and it’s nice to be champs again,” Pine River senior Brandon Hoaglund said. “Honestly, I’m kind of speechless right now,” junior Lucas Harris added. “We worked hard all night and it was just awesome to win (Tuesday).” For a team that’s run the table in its conference with just one conference game left against Beal City on Thursday, Bucks coach Brian Goodenow said his team’s been able to respond to the pressure of getting everyone’s best shot all season. “When you’re the top dog, everyone’s biggest game is against you,” he said. “I know (Evart) wanted to play spoiler on their home floor and they played us real hard. I just couldn’t be more proud of our guys. “A Highland Conference championship has always been goal No.1,” hecontinued. “To win it outright means a lot. We’ll celebrate this a little bit and get ready for a big game against Beal City on Thursday.” The Bucks jumped on the Wildcats early with a 7-0 run to open the game with 5:16 to play in the first quarter following a jumper from Mitchell McDonald. Evart first got on the board a minute later with two layups by Chris Garner to cut the Pine River lead to 9-4 with just under four minutes to play in the first, but Pine River closed out the quarter with two free throws from Harris to take a 11-4 lead into the second quarter. Pine River opened the second with back-to-back layups from McDonald and Harris, respectively, but Evart rallied back with a three-pointer from Robert Burge to cut the Bucks’ lead to 15-7 with 5:45 before the half. That would be as close as the Wildcats would get, though, as the Bucks ripped off a 14-6 run to push their lead to 29-13 with 1:37 to go before the half after a trey from Harris to help Pine River go into the half with a 33-18 lead. “It was really important for us to control the game early because we always want to to get off to a fast start,” Hoaglund said. “That’s what we try to do every game.” The Bucks continued to take control in the second half as they opened the third quarter with an 8-3 run to take a 41-22 lead with 5:32 to go in the third following a three-pointer by Skyler Nelson. That lead would grow to 50-30 at the end of the third quarter after the Bucks outscored the Wildcats 9-8 to close out the quarter. With the conference title in their sights, the Bucks outscored Evart 21-13 in the fourth to secure the 71-43 victory and another league title. “We played Pine River pretty tough last time and they jumped on us early then, but we fought back from a bigger hole then,” Evart coach Josh Johnson said. “We just can’t really get over the hump. That first half, the lid was on the basket. We fought, but hopefully we’ll see (Pine River) in districts next week.” Johnson said the Wildcats were getting open looks due to the Bucks playing a zone defense, but they weren’t able to take advantage of those looks. Hoaglund had a triple- double for the Bucks with 10 points, 11 assists and 12 rebounds while Harris tallied 24 points, five rebounds and four steals and McDonald had 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Garner led the Wildcats with 13 points while Robert Tapling had eight points for Evart, which closes out the regular season Thursday at McBain. While the Bucks will enjoy their league title, Goodenow said the Bucks still have work to do against Beal City on Thursday before heading to districts next week. “I think running the table would definitely be icing on the cake and it’s definitely something we want to do,” he said. “We’ll go into Thursday approaching it like it’s the most important game of the year. That’s the way we’ve approached every game this year.” PINE RIVER 74, EVART 43 PR 11 22 17 21 - 74 EV 04 14 12 08 - 43\ PINE RIVER (17-2, 13-0 Highland) Brandon Fulks 2 1-3 5, Greg Park 2 0-0 4, Brandon Hoaglund 1(2) 2-3 10, Skyler Nelson 0 (3) 2-2 11, Mitchell McDonald 6 (2) 5-6 23, Lucas Harris 7 (1) 4-5 21 EVART (8-10, 5-7 Highland) Robert Burge 0 (1) 0-0 3, Jacob Fortune 0 (1) 0-0 3, Nolan VanOrder 1 2-2 4, Larry VanBuren 0 2-4 2, Jared Pattee 1(1) 0-0 5, Chris Garner 6 1-3 13, Robert Tapling 4 0-0 8, Tre Dyer 0 (1) 0-0 3, Joshua Decator 1 0-0 2.