Gielczyk: Pentwater Trending Upward

It was a frustrating finish to an otherwise impressive turnaround season for the Pentwater boys basketball team when the Falcons saw a stirring second-half rally fall short in a 47-45 loss to Onekama in a MHSAA Class D district final.

The Falcons had fallen short of their first goal of winning a Western Michigan D League title by the narrowest of margins after staying in contention deep into the season.

Although it finished third in the league, Pentwater made a huge run at Bear Lake before dropping a 77-70 decision to the undisputed league champion after rallying from a big deficit late in the game.

Pentwater trailed the Lakers by 19 points, 68-49, with under four minutes left in the game before lifting itself off the deck and putting on a big push behind a 3-point barrage by Glenn Miller and Owen Knudsen to close the gap to just four points, 70-66 with 1:18 remaining.

Time enough to finish the deal. But, the Lakers managed to stave the Falcons off and hang on for the win to clinch the title outright. Free throw shooting was a big factor in the game, with Pentwater making just 9 of 16 while Bear Lake converted 19 of 26.

But, one goal was still attainable for the Falcons when they reached the district championship against tournament host Onekama.

Pentwater fell into a double figure deficit, and didn’t take its first lead of the game, 23-21, only 1:17 left before the end of the first half. Onekama grew its lead to 13 points, 42-29 in the fourth quarter.

Again, the Falcons rallied and came agonizingly close to overtaking the Portagers when Knudsen swished a 3-point shot and was fouled with only 19.6 seconds left. He missed the free throw attempt, however, and Onekama beat the Falcons to the rebound to hang on for the win.

It was Onekama’s first district title in. The Portagers was beaten in the first game of the regional tournament, 55-43 to Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart and finished 16-7.

The Falcons enjoyed a breakout season with a 14-8 record overall, and improved to 9-5 in the league after going just 5-16 and 3-11, respectively, a year ago.

“We were in striking distance of both goals of winning the league and district titles,” Pentwater coach Ashley Wojtas said. “Ultimately, we did hit a lot of goals along the way.

“Some things we were able to accomplish building a better record than we’ve had the last few years. Winning 14 games is nothing to blink an eye at. I’m very thrilled with that.

“Ultimately, we were in every game this year. There wasn’t a game we couldn’t have won. That goes out to my boys, and how hard they worked.”

Pentwater did claim the trophy in the Oceana County tournament this year, and also broke a state record for the number of 3-pointers in a game.

The Falcons played a lot of summer ball this year, finishing second in their bracket of the Central Michigan University tournament against teams of different sizes.

“We came into the season knowing that we would do exactly what we did, and give everyone a run for their money,” said Wojtas. “I think we surprised a lot of teams.

“I think we built our confidence, going on a streak and winning (five) straight (after a 1-1 start). We were in striking distance of first in the conference for a while there.”

Pentwater this year returned seniors Knudsen, Miller, Billy Sproul, Iain Stewart and Dominic McKinney. Wojtas also said she had buy-in from the underclassmen who she had on the varsity since they were freshmen and sophomores.

That experience was the foundation for the team’s turnaround, Wojtas said.

But the cupboard is not bare, with two starters expected to return in Austin Hofmann and Max Stoneman, while Miller stepped up and delivered in a big way as the Falcons’ sixth man. Wojtas said he could easily have been a starter.

“I brought a freshman up this year to kind of mentor and mold, Khole Hofmann, and he’s just as hard of a workhorse as his brother,” Wojtas said. “With that, I think I have a strong starting four returning.

“My JV program was solid, so I’m hoping that I can grab a few of those underclassmen that will be sophomores and juniors. I think we’ll have just a as good, if not even better of a season next year.”

Wojtas, who finished her eight season on the bench, said the Falcons focused on shooting last summer, after struggling with their percentage last year.

Pentwater will continue to stress taking good shots, and working hard for the rebounds, in the off-season.

“I have a couple of guys on JV that are good 3-point shooters,” Wojtas said. “I brought them up for districts, and they get a little experience. I think our shooting is going to be okay. We just have to get a lot of reps in this summer.

“Austin and Max are my two leading rebounders, and I’ll have them back. So, rebounding I think will be fairly solid. I’d like to find a third man. Seth Matulis, a junior this year, didn’t see a whole lot playing time but he has the height.”

Matulis just needs more experience, Wojtas added. He didn’t start playing basketball until later in life.

The Falcons also have Max’s younger brother, Jack Stoneman coming up from the junior varsity that is already pushing over 6-foot.

“I’m hoping that this summer I can see a glimpse, or a spark out of him,” Wojtas said. “He potentially might be one of those guys, too, that I’m looking at for next season.”

Wojtas felt the Falcons’ defense defined them as a team, and led to many of their victories this year.

Pentwater held many teams that averaged between 50 to 60 points a game to 40 or under, transitioning between several defenses, sowing confusion and havoc for the opponent’s offense.

“The boys communicate very well,” Wojtas said. “I think a big part of our game, too, is taking charges (player control fouls) and learning how to slow a dribbler down, and getting in their way without causing a foul.

“So, we just really kind of worked on footwork. I think my defense this year, as far as the team goes, was the best it’s been the other eight years I coached the boys.

“It’s something we’ve been working really hard on, and I think it will be just as good next year with the kids I’ll have back.”

Pentwater expects to continue its trend upward, and the Falcons will be hungry to reach the top of the mountain in the conference and districts next year.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at ggielczyk@jackpine.net for story ideas. 

Categories: Boys Basketball