Pine River takes the title
LEROY — A loss in late November to start the season feels like a distant memory for the Pine River girls basketball team, which picked up its 20th win in a row to capture a Class C district title in a 54-32 win over McBain on Friday. After the Bucks (20-1) dropped their opener on the road to Reed City in a tough 60-42 loss, Pine River knew it had to rethink how it was going to approach its season as a team if it was going to accomplish its goals. “It was kind of a wake-up call for us,” sophomore guard Kassy Nelson said. “When we played Reed City, I don’t really know what was going on — it felt like we were overly-confident coming in. That loss brought us down a few notches and taught us that we had to work for what we wanted.” Haley Raymond remembers the loss served as motivation for the rest of the season that has now included a conference and district title in her senior season. “I think that loss showed us how we didn’t want to feel the rest of the season,” she said. “We knew we had to pick it up from there. We knew we weren’t working together as a team, and that’s what we do well, so that taught us we had to pull it together right then and there.” That attitude was on display against the Ramblers on Friday, as Pine River fired out to a 21-1 lead to start the game behind suffocating defense and lights-out shooting in the first quarter. It started from behind the arc, with Nelson and Raymond hitting triples to make it 10-1. Jamie Justin then finished strong at the basket before Raymond hit a jumper with 12 seconds left in the quarter and it was quickly 16-1. Hot starts have become a staple of this year’s team, coach Shawn Ruppert said. “We’ve been that way for a while,” he said. “I thought we started off really well defensively and we got good shots in transition. Haley Raymond shot really well for us. “We’ve been playing like how I expected us to play,” Ruppert added of his team’s consistency since the season-opening loss. “I think it woke us up. I’ll take that loss if that meant having the success we’ve had since then.” Raymond, who scored nine of her 11 points in the first half, knew getting off to a good start in front of the home crowd was going to be critical in taking McBain out of its comfort zone. Nelson led the Bucks with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Justin ran the show, scoring 14 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out four assists. Meredith Hamlet led McBain with 14 points. “We knew McBain was going to come out hard at us, so we had to come out twice as hard at them,” Raymond said. “We didn’t come out thinking about winning or losing, we just wanted to play our game. We worked hard as a team and it worked really well for us. “Sometimes we’re just on and (Friday) we were on,” she said. “We were all feeling it as a team, and that’s what led to our good start. Once we started hitting them, we knew it was our game.” Nelson hit another triple to start the second quarter, while Justin later went coast to coast to make it 24-6 with 3:30 left in the half. An 18-footer by Raymond made it 26-6, and the Ramblers never threatened the rest of the way. After Nelson’s third triple of the game made it 36-14, Gatt scored on consecutive lay-ups off steals to increase the lead to 40-14. It was a special night for the Bucks, said Justin, who has been on the varsity all four years of her high school career. “I think our team is really strong and we bond together well,” she said. “We knew we had to get off to a good start, because we knew if we did it would shut them down and kind of defeat them.” The Bucks advance to regional action where they will take on Shelby (18-4) at 8 p.m. on Tuesday at McBain High School.