By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Holland West Ottawa may be a group of really talented athletes who are just as good – and in some cases better – playing other sports.
But Saturday, they could prove to be the best Class A basketball team in Michigan as well.
They’ve certainly earned the opportunity. For the third straight game Friday, the Panthers survived a nail-biting finish, this time 53-50 against Novi to earn their first trip to an MHSAA championship game in this sport.
The second matchup of the day at Breslin Center featured 10 lead changes, and neither team led by more than seven points at any point. The last lead change came with 3:24 to play, and Novi took a shot to tie the score again with 21 seconds to go.
“This whole tournament we’ve been saying this could be our last game if we lose – and we finally made it to our last game tomorrow,” West Ottawa senior forward Tyler Bosma said. “It’s nice to be able to say that, no matter what.
“It’s obviously a game. You never know what way it can go. … Having just a strong group of kids that’s stuck together for a while helps. We know we want this just as bad as everyone around us, and that’s what’s gotten us those runs in a close situation.”
West Ottawa (25-2) will face reigning champion Clarkston at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Panthers opened their closing pursuit with a 56-52 overtime win over Muskegon in the Regional Final, then downed East Lansing 58-55 in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal.
They led Thursday’s game for 21 minutes and 45 seconds, but fell behind 43-42 on Tariq Woody’s basket with 4:19 to play.
Yet, West Ottawa then scored the next seven points and made 6 of 7 free throw attempts down the stretch.
“We’re really gifted with some good athletes. But the best part is they compete,” West Ottawa coach Steve Windemuller said. “As a coach, you wonder, ‘What am I going to get tonight?’ … Every time these guys bring it. They’re an amazing group about bringing it and playing hard no matter who we’re playing.”
The Wildcats (17-9), also seeking their first championship game berth, had won 11 of their last 12 games entering Friday, starting four seniors who had brought the team back from opening the season 1-5.
Novi outrebounded West Ottawa 39-28 and had one fewer turnover, but struggled to get in rhythm and made only 35 percent of its shots and 6 of 28 tries from 3-point range. Woody finished with 14 points and 16 rebounds, and senior guard Traveon Maddox, Jr., had 13 points.
“We weren’t prepared to lose; that’s the thing. We had a goal set to play tomorrow, and it’s tough,” Novi coach Brandon Sinawi said. “Sometimes throughout the course of a season you don’t play a great game. Unfortunately for us, it was today. They played the way they wanted to, and they had us playing their style, and that’s not what we wanted to do.”
Bosma had 13 points, 12 rebounds and five assists for West Ottawa, and Wade also scored 13 points. Senior Drew Pederson had 12 points.
The Panthers have less than a day to gear up for Clarkston and Mr. Basketball Award winner Foster Loyer – although they did defeat finalists Brandon Johns with East Lansing and Marcus Bingham, Jr., with Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the regular-season finale.
West Ottawa has a Division I baseball prospect in Bosma and a Division II football and basketball recruit in Wade, and as a unit they’ve found their way through to the last day of the season.
“With a baseball player and an all-state football receiver, and another all-state linebacker, we’ve just got a bunch of regular dudes,” Windemuller said. “Part of it is we’ve earned our respect right now. I told them in the locker room pregame, we’ve earned everything we’ve gotten so far. I think we deserve to be here.
“I think we’re going to come here and try to give our best and try to win tomorrow, and that was the message today too.”
Click for the full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) Holland West Ottawa’s Xavier Wade looks for an open teammate while guarded by Novi’s Brett Mackay. (Middle) Trendon Hankerson (1) gets a hand up as Wade drives to the basket.