For fans of high school basketball, there was no better place to be on Friday night than “The House” at The Potter’s House High School in Wyoming, MI.
Tucked behind a classic brick church and various commercial buildings, The Potter’s House doesn’t scream its presence in its physical stature, but what it does do is project its spririt through a blend of an incredibly unique student body, engaged faculty and love of high school basketball.
Both boys and girls varsity teams have seen year on year success or marked improvement under veteran coaches, Kevin Kuipers (Boys Varsity) and Jake Hoogstrate (Girls Varsity). Friday night was an example of just how far each program has come and looks to go as teams around the state enter February and prepare their final pushes for post-season play.
Visiting from neighboring Fruitport, the lady Eagles of Calvary Christian (10-2, 5-0) arrived ready to upset the homecoming festivities and quiet the raucous and pandemoniac crowd that is the Potter’s House student section. If they had their eye on that goal then they were in for a wild ride as Puma nation did not sit down or stop an endless series of chants, cheers and championing of the home team Pumas for the entire duration of the night’s events.
The Puma girls varsity (3-9, 3-1) took the court after an opening hors d’oeuvres of JV girls basketball action between the two schools.
The lady Pumas have struggled to win in some tough games this season, but unlike in years past, have remained competitive in just about every game (4 losses have been by 10 or fewer points) and against a heightened level of competition compared to previous units. Their opponents might leave with a win, but they are prepared to make you sweat it out until the end.
Just one night earlier the lady Pumas finally cracked through that ceiling and secured a one-point victory over conference foe, Zion Christian, and hoped to do the same against the conference leading, Fruitport Calvary Christian Eagles, on Friday night.
Calvary Christian, led by Brad Richards, got going on the backs of senior forwards, Kelsey Richards and Lizzie Cammenga, and they did not stop riding them until the final buzzer.
The pair scored, seemingly at will, most of the night as the Eagles got the ball into the two towering seniors who managed to deliver a blistering efficient shooting percentage from mid-range and inside the paint most of the night. There was not much of an answer for these two conference standouts from the Pumas. Instead, the Pumas were faced with the tough task of matching the duos’ buckets and doing their best to keep the ball out of the Richards and Cammenga’s hands as often as they were able.
While Calvary relied on senior-laden experience, the Pumas turned to a fresh face cast of underclassman who showed up in a big way on Friday night and aided their more seasoned teammates. Two of those underclassman standouts were freshman Isabelle and sophomore Gabby Baez. What makes the duo even more special is that they are not only teammates on the court, but sisters off of it.
The pair of newcomers to the Puma varsity girls basketball team kept the Eagles in check by forcing them to defend the sisters beyond the arch. With the Baez sisters’ shots raining down, the Pumas remained in the thick of it late into the game against a team that made it to the state semi-final in class D just last year.
A late blitz of three point buckets from all areas of downtown by the Baez sisters and a corner three by fellow underclassman, sophomore Lilly Klop, brought the game within striking distance, but inevitably fell just short in a 42-38 loss to the conference-leading Eagles.
The night was only getting started, however, as the rims barely had time to cool before the boys varsity Pumas took the hardwood.
While the girls have struggled to secure victories outside of conference play, the boys came into Friday night’s matchup ready to play the UNO reverse, riding a six game winning streak and a 10-3 (6-0) overall record. While the Fruitport ladies lead the Alliance League and the Potter’s House girls struggling outside the conference, the boys teams’ stories provide a polar opposite view with the Fruitport boys slogging through their schedule to a 1-11 (1-4) record under Rick Maine and the Potter’s House boys looking to be chasing another top finish in conference under the tutelage of Coach Kuipers.
It did not take the Potter’s House boys long to make it clear that the Eagles would not be playing spoiler on homecoming in the final game of the evening. The Pumas ran away with things in just the first few minutes and held the Eagles scoreless much of the early going, eventually stretching things to a 25-8, 36-13 and a halftime score of 43-22.
The first half was indicative of what we’ve come to expect from the Puma boys in recent years, an intense brand of basketball that forces teams to choose between defending the Pumas hyper-athleticism and length on hard dribble drives to the rim or shutdown their perimeter shooting prowess that is regularly put on display up and down the lineup.
On Friday night, the Eagles tried both and succeeded at neither.
When the Eagles managed to closeout on shooters, the Pumas made them pay with layups or runners in the lane. When the Eagles played hard to cover help-side against the drive, Pumas delivered a ruthless three point barrage.
Things didn’t improve much in the second half for the visiting eagles, as the pumas dug into a deep bench that didn’t provide much relief and kept the up the pressure en route to a 80-53 finish that was not as close as even the lopsided score would suggest.
There were simply too many Puma standouts to mention by name, as the entire roster seemed to be a massive contributor in quick bursts when their name was called upon to forward the common cause of remaining undefeated in conference.
One thing to look out for will be the availability of Jalen Allen going forward. The guard went down late in the game and had to be carried off the court, though he seemed to be in high spirits.