by RANDY GREGORY
The dictionary defines cubed as the third power of a number or quantity. To the Rockford Rams varsity basketball team, it equals the power of the three-point shot. The Rams were a blistering 11 of 19 from three-point land on their way to an impressive 57-41 drubbing of Grand Haven in the Class A regional finals on Wednesday night, March 14 at Grandville. The win propels the 20-5 Rams into the Class A quarterfinals against the Okemos Chieftains (17-8).
Rockford actually trailed early 7-5 as they tried to get their offense on track. But once the door nudged open from distance, the Rams kicked it all the way in. Alex Durkin hit a triple to make it 8-7 Rockford and give the Rams the lead for the balance of the contest. That was followed by Durkin again from distance, then Chad Carlson with a bomb, and finally Kyle Short with a three-pointer of his own. Just like that, the Rams turned a two-point deficit into a 10-point lead (17-7) and set the stage for a recurring theme.
“One thing that Steve [Majerle] always says is that ‘shooting covers up for a lot of sins’,” said Rockford Coach Nick Allen. “We were definitely able to make things easier tonight with our ability to shoot from the perimeter. I know I can always count on a great effort defensively, but you never know if the shots are going to fall on a consistent basis that night. This was one of those days where they were and we were able to take advantage of that.”
The second quarter was more of the same for Rockford, save for a different sniper. Chase Fairchild nailed three triples in three attempts that not only kept the Buccaneers at bay; it actually increased the Rockford lead to 34-17 as the two teams headed to the locker room. Every time that the Bucs made a minor charge it was merely another opportunity for the Rams to drop in an effective three-point counter of their own.
“Our coaches have a lot of confidence in all of us and they encourage us to take the open three-pointer,” said Durkin. “We were knocking them down tonight and we were able to feed off of each other. It was a team win and we had contributions from a lot of players.”
Grand Haven had a brief flicker of hope as they managed to trim a few points off of the Rockford lead and make it 44-30 heading into the final frame. But, once again, Rockford had an immediate retort from downtown that quickly pushed the lead to 20 (50-30). First up was Mitch Caywood with a three-pointer, and that was followed immediately by a triple from Carlson. That quick barrage sent a good chunk of the crowd scurrying for the exits and erased all doubts as to the eventual outcome.
It had the makings of a potentially physically draining contest for Rockford. Their scheduled game from Monday had been delayed until Tuesday due to a tornado watch. Even though they were faced with the prospect of games on consecutive nights, it was actually the Rams who appeared to be the fresher team over the course of the contest. The only area of concern for the Rams was a dreadful 4-of-17 showing from the freethrow line. Other than that, it was a night with a distinct orange and black tint.
“We played games on back-to-back nights earlier this year,” said Durkin. “The coaches have us in great shape and we play a lot of guys a lot of minutes. Our depth is one of our greatest strengths and we were able to use that to our benefit tonight.”
Durkin was the only player in double figures for Rockford, with 14 points. But in a testament to their depth, four other Rams had at least seven points. Carlson and Fairchild scored nine points each, and Short and Caywood put up seven points apiece.
The Tuesday, March 20 contest against Okemos (too late for press) matches up two teams with seven-game winning streaks entering the Class A quarterfinals. Counted amongst the Chieftains’ victims was a district triumph over the third-ranked team in Class A (Lansing Eastern) entering the postseason. Lansing Eastern had beaten Okemos by 26 points (84-58) just two weeks earlier. The Chieftains aren’t averse to pushing the pace, and topped Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills 55-54 in overtime in their regional title tilt.
The winner advances to the Class A semifinals against the winner of the Romulus and Detroit Pershing game on Friday, March 23 at the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing. Game time for that contest is slated for 1:00 p.m. Should the Rams prevail there, the Class A finals will be played at the Breslin Center at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 24.