By ERIC FORTUNE
For the Star Beacon
Much like they had to back in Orwell on Dec. 8, the Grand Valley Mustangs again found a way against the Badger Braves, overcoming a nine-point deficit and some hot 3-point shooting from the Braves to escape with a 71-66 victory in Northeastern Athletic Conference play.
Overall, the Braves (7-8) had nine 3s for the game between three players (Matt Kraml, Brandon Bates, and Jason Lipps), but it was the Bates and Kraml show most of the way as they led the Braves with 35 and 18 points, respectively.
“They do a real nice job for us,” Badger coach Chris Mott said. “We rely on them quite a bit on the offensive end. We have other guys that fill some roles and do a good job of it. Everyone knows they do a lot of the scoring for us or even creating for others.”
At one point, it felt like they couldn’t miss, which Grand Valley coach Luke Strohm knew had to be rectified if his team was going to have any chance of pulling out a win.
“We were trying a number of different defenses trying to find something that might slow their 3-point shooters down a little bit,” he said. “We were trying a regular halfcourt man, but slowly giving them the opportunity to bring the ball up.
“It kind of bit us in the backside and they hit some 3s. So we wanted to switch it up to force them to shoot quicker and on the run. We tried to up the tempo with them with a little more pressure. We were then able to get some transition buckets.”
Those transition buckets provided his squad with some spark as his team was able to match those 3s with Jake Vormelker (19 points) and Stanley Sirrine (18 points) answering each time it felt like the Braves were about to put the game away.
“They started play a little run and jump defense which got us out of our sets and what we like to do,” Badger coach Chris Mott said. “We got a little careless with the ball at times there. Turnovers really bit us.
“I wouldn’t say they led to easy buckets, but they were baskets they finished and got fouls on. There were a couple of three-point plays down the stretch that really hurt us.”
Though no shot might have been bigger for the Mustangs (3-12) than that of Josh Kovats’ drive to the free-throw line where he drew contact, made the bucket and calmly sank the and-one to give Grand Valley a five-point advantage, 69-64 with 12 seconds left in the game.
It concluded four lead changes in the final four minutes as the Mustangs were able to hit back cuts and get some high percentage buckets when it mattered in crunch time.
On the other end, those 3s that Kraml and Bates seemed to be trading on each trip down the court stopped falling. Down the stretch, both had good looks to put Badger up, but they just didn’t go down.
In the end, it was the Mustangs that had the answers and made the clutch shots to make Strohm breath a little sigh of relief as it didn’t come down to a last-second buzzer beater from Kyle Orogovan.
“That’s a credit to those guys keeping their composure.” he said. “At that point, the tempo was where we wanted it. We had the focus and we had the heart. We had the unity we needed in that fourth quarter.”
Fortune is a freelance writer from McDonald.