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Hudsonville slips past Rockford, 45-42, draws closer to another division title

By: Steve Vedder, February 12, 2016, 10:25 pm



Hudsonville -Think of it as business as usual for a young Hudsonville girls basketball team.

Despite a lineup that includes six underclassmen among the Eagles’ top eight players, Hudsonville continued an amazing stretch of winning close games on Friday. Its 45-42 victory over Rockford brought the Eagles a step closer to successfully defending its OK Red Division title.

The win, which included rallying from a nine-point second quarter deficit, improves Hudsonville’s record to 8-2 in games decided by eight points or less, including 6-0 within the division.

Hudsonville (14-2) is 7-0 with three games left. Rockford fell to 4-3 in the Red and East Kentwood is 5-2. East Kentwood lost on a buzzer-beater to the Eagles earlier this season. The Falcons are still in the race after defeating Grand Haven, 58-33, on Friday.

Hudsonville fields a lineup that includes three sophomores and a freshmen along with two juniors among its top eight players. Still, that youth hasn’t slowed the team’s competitiveness. The Eagles won their last eight games a year ago to capture the division title but lost six key players. Even in starting over this season, coach Casey Glass said he had only one concern and it wasn’t about talent.

"A lot of people saw that we were young, that the experience wasn’t there," Glass said. "But I didn’t look at ages, I knew the skill level was there and they’ve risen to that challenge. We have three very good senior leaders who pick the kids up when they’re down.

"To be honest, I knew the talent level was a little more than last year. What I questioned was our leadership – that was the big question. Were we going to get the leadership that allowed us to play with confidence?"

That confidence was obvious in the win over Rockford, which had won six of seven following a mid-January loss to Hudsonville. The Rams led 18-10 with 4:12 left in the first half and allowed the Eagles just two field goals in the first 12 minutes. Hudsonville never led until a 25-24 advantage with 3:15 left in the third quarter and that was followed by the lead changing hands, or the game being tied, 10 times in the next 10 minutes.

Rockford led 40-39 with 2:20 to go, but Hudsonville took the lead for good, 41-40, on a basket by Eagles senior forward Shaina DenBesten.

DenBesten, who finished with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists, said the team’s apparent inexperience is a non-issue.

"It’s a lot different than last year," she said of having six seniors. "Yes, we’re young, but we offer a lot of athletic ability and hustle. We really get after it in practice. It’s a fun group to play with."

Rockford coach Jessica Yonkers said the Eagles actually are a solid mix of youth and experience.

"They’ve got some anchors who are older," she said. "They’ve also got some young kids who have stepped up. But they do have that experience to bring to the table."

Sophomore guard Kasey DeSmit had 15 points for Hudsonville, while Maddy Watters, a junior guard, had 17 points for the Rams.

"It starts with trust," Glass said of the success of a youthful team in close games. "We don’t put people on varsity if we don’t trust them with the ball. We expect them to be in big situations."

Hudsonville has quickly rebounded from a 2-19 season in 2014 and are now one win away from clinching at least a share of another title. Glass said there is one significant explanation for that transformation.

"The difference is we talked about wanting to be like a family," he said. "And we’ve taken that to heart."

Hudsonville needs one win in its last three OK Red games against Grandville, West Ottawa and East Kentwood to clinch a championship.