Hudsonville captures six straight district title; Lowell awaits
Grandville - The expected rebuilding season has instead turned into another district title for the Hudsonville boys basketball team.
After losing its top two players to graduation, many thought the Eagles would be hard-pressed to be in the hunt for an OK Red Division title then going on to win a sixth consecutive Class A district title. But both have happened, including Friday's 48-31 win over Zeeland East in the district final at Grandville.
Hudsonville coach Eric Elliott said he's not particularly surprised that the Eagles had to overcome doubters, but he never counted himself as one.
"For the last three years we had two three-year players who were pretty much our inside game. When they graduated our leading scorer back averaged like 4.8 points per game and we had holes to fill and a lot of people wrote us off," Elliott said. "But even last summer we knew what we were capable of. We have versatile players and they give us a lot of options."
The result is a 7-0 start that included wins over Wyoming Godwin Heights and Grand Rapids Christian. Hudsonville, which finished only two games behind OK Red champ Holland West Ottawa, will take a 17-5 record into Monday's regional semifinal at Caledonia against Lowell (18-5) at 5 p.m.
It's not only Elliott who thought the Eagles would be a surprise club. Senior guard Bryce Elliott, the coach's son, said his teammates heard the doubters before the season's first tip-off and the players just ignored them.
"We definitely did hear it," he said. "We lost two of our best players (Brent Hibbitts and Mason Opple), but this team has heart, a burning desire. Every minute we're in the gym we're getting after it."
Hudsonville got after it against East (17-6). The Eagles never trailed and led by as much as 10 (21-11) in the second quarter before upping the margin to 30-18 with 1:50 left in the third. The closest East could get was 21-16 with just under two minutes left in the first half.
Hudsonville senior Levi Lubbers said the players didn't let outside opinions deter them.
"It didn't affect the players," he said. "The chemistry is stronger than what any single person thinks. The players know what we can do. All the guys are confident we can perform with any team in the state."
Balance and defense helped the Eagles extend their streak of district titles. All five starters scored between seven and nine points, including nine from senior guard Jared Blum. Ben Ritsema had 14 for Zeeland East.
Defensively, Hudsonville held a Chix team, which shoots 38 percent the 3-point range and averages 60 points per game, to two field goals in three different quarters. East coach Mike Fenton said that was a combination of Hudsonville's defense, but also an off-shooting night. The 31 points was a season low.
"If you had said we'd hold (Hudsonville leading scorer Riley) Costen to seven points and they'd have one guy in double figures, I would have said we would have won the game," he said. "We did what we wanted to do defensively. What we didn't do was score. We had our opportunities."
Elliott also thought the Eagles had enough opportunities to score.
"We've been really consistent and solid from the start this year," he said. "But we missed some point blank shots tonight."