by RANDY GREGORY
Rockford High School varsity boys basketball didn’t have the day shooting against Hudsonville on Tuesday, March 13 at Grandville that they had against Northview four days earlier. But their defensive effort never wavered, and the Rams advanced to the Class A regional title game against Grand Haven with a 49-42 triumph over the Eagles.
The game was postponed from Monday by an area-wide tornado watch that left the winner staring at the unenviable scenario of having to play back-to-back nights for the chance to advance to the quarterfinal round. But neither team left anything on the court in a contest that could best be described as street hockey in tennis shoes. There were 35 fouls called and bodies hitting the floor all night long in the spirited battle. Rockford had come out on top of the previous two meetings and the Eagles came out with a look of desperation in their eyes and style of play.
Hudsonville jumped out to a 14-8 lead after one quarter, built mainly on the back of BJ VanLoo. VanLoo tallied 10 of the 14 points Hudsonville mustered in the opening quarter and all of their points in the second stanza. Unfortunately for the Eagles, their total output for the second quarter totaled two points.
The Rams, in addition to the suffocating defense, put up 12 points of their own in that time frame and took their first lead at 18-16 on a Chad Carlson triple. Rockford tallied an additional two points and took a 20-16 lead into the locker room.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Rockford Coach Nick Allen. “The first two times we played, it was that type of game and we didn’t expect anything different tonight. Most of the games we play are going to be physical and hard fought, so we are used to that kind of contest.”
Hudsonville managed to rally themselves back into the contest in the third quarter by outscoring Rockford 14-10 and setting up the final frenetic eight minutes with the two squads knotted at 30-30. Both teams had a sizable contingent of supporters who created a din at times in the nearly full house.
But it was Rockford that was able to get an early spark and set the stage for their eventual victory. Scott Nikodemski started the run with an easy two that was followed up by a pair of threes from Ivy Johnson and Chad Carlson to give Rockford a 38-30 lead that they never looked back on.
VanLoo fouled out with just over four minutes to play and, save for some anxious moments from the free throw line (12-22 as a team), Rockford maintained a comfortable margin till the game’s conclusion. VanLoo led Hudsonville with 22 points, but it was the defense of Rockford on the Eagles’ other star (Blake Hibbits) that was a huge key to the win. Hibbits was a dismal 1-17 from the floor and finished with only five points.
“We always stress the team first,” said Allen. “I think I know how the kids are going to react tomorrow, but it is what it is. The depth we have built should have us prepared and I have a lot of confidence in my players and coaches to get the job done.”
Carlson had 20 points to lead Rockford and Kyle Short added 10. No other Ram put up more than five points to further accentuate the depth of this squad.
With the win, the Rams (19-5) advanced to the Class A regional finals against Grand Haven. The two OK Red foes split a pair of match ups earlier this season with each team winning on their opponent’s floor.