LEROY — The Pine River Bucks improved to 3-1 with a 60-46 Highland Conference win over McBain on Friday night at Pine River High School. 

The Bucks rode a solid effort on defense and rebounding to the Highland Conference win in what Pine River coach Shawn Ruppert said was the Bucks’ “best game overall” on the season. 

Kassy Nelson led the way with a double-double featuring 27 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and three steals, while Keirra Justin chipped in 11 points and five rebounds and Cheyanna Rizor put up 10 points and eight boards. 

“I thought we played well,” Pine River coach Shawn Ruppert said. “I thought the girls worked hard. We had a few defensive breakdowns in the first half. In the second half, I thought we did a better job. Overall, I was happy.”

Ruppert expects McBain to remain among the league contenders.

“They shot the ball from the 3-point line better than I thought they would,” Ruppert said. “We had to make a few adjustments on that.”

Ruppert expects Lake City and McBain NMC to also be league contenders.

The Bucks return to action on Jan. 5, at home against Elk Rapids. 

Meanwhile, a layoff of more than a week didn’t seem to affect the Pine River girls basketball team one bit Tuesday night, Dec. 16. The Bucks fired out to a 22-2 first-period lead and went on to a 49-19 victory in their Highland Conference opener against Manton.

Nelson, who scored 28 points and had six rebounds and four steals, netted three 3-pointers and 13 total points in the first quarter to lead the Bucks’ attack. She scored nine more in the second quarter and Pine River was up 33-12 halftime, with Nelson credited for 22 points.

“You’d like to have a more consistent (schedule) than that,” Pine River coach Shawn Ruppert said of his team’s layoff. “I thought we came out well the first and third quarter. But it was not so strong in the fourth. It’s hard to keep your concentration when you’re ahead that much.”

Solid Pine River defense, plus a triple from Julie Justin and four points from  Rizer, also sparked the Bucks’ first quarter fortunes.

“We played really good the the first and third,” sophomore Anna Lindquist said. “I think we came out confident.”

Pine River’s offense sputtered at times in the second quarter. Karah Baker hit seven points in the quarter for the Rangers.

“Obviously the transition hurt us in the first part and we couldn’t’ get things going offensively,” Manton coach J.P. Katona said. “It felt like there was a lid on the hoop. The second quarter we had a nice little run and scored 10 points. It gave us a little glimmer of hope. In the second  half, we couldn’t’ get back in the transition, that hurt us all night. Turnovers obviously did too.”

Nelson’s triple early in the third gave the hosts a 38-12 lead. Jenna Johnson’s layup gave the Bucks a 44-12 lead at 2:30. Baker scored Manton’s first points of the quarter at the one-minute mark but the Bucks were well ahead 45-14 going into the final quarter.

“I was happy overall with our effort,” Ruppert said. “I thought we did a good job getting after the loose balls. We fouled a little too much, other than that we played (good defense.).”

Baker led Manton, 2-3 overall, with 11 points. Justin scored nine points for the Bucks and also had seven assists and four steals. Rizor had six rebounds.

The Bucks improved to 2-1 overall.

“We’re both pretty young,” Ruppert said. “We’ll see what happens. If we stay out of foul trouble, we’ll be fine.”

Herald Review sportswriter Daine Pavloski contributed to this report.