Gielczyk: Pentwater Ready for Another Run Next Season
Despite seeing its season end in the MHSAA Division 4 regional semifinals, there was not a ton of disappointment for the Pentwater girls basketball team.
Last year, the Falcons lost in the district finals. This year, they got over the top and won it.
The Falcons finished 16-6 this year and won their first district title in 11 years. But their unfamiliarity of playing at the regional level might have been too much to handle.
Pentwater appeared to be rattled in the game’s first few minutes when Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary sprinted out to a 13-0 lead before the Falcons finally got on the scoreboard with a bucket from Julia Hall.
“We were a bit shell shocked when we got out there for that first quarter,” Pentwater coach Joe Gorton said. “Definitely a part of that is we’re just not used to seeing that. We’re not used to seeing that next level of competition.
“I think recovered a little bit the rest of the game, and definitely proved that we could play with them if we had our heads about us.
“Just the opportunity to see that can be a driving force for my underclassmen in the off-season, to strive to continue to improve, and to work to get to that next level. Hopefully, we can get back there again and make a better showing.”
Seminary didn’t let up, and built a 28-5 lead at the end of the first quarter. Pentwater struggled again in the third quarter, and trailed by 13 points, 53-20 heading into the fourth quarter en route to a 63-32 loss.
Although their goal of repeating as Western Michigan D League champions was denied by Bear Lake, which won both games this year and finished 13-0 to their 13-3, the Falcons had no reason to hang their heads according to Gorton.
“We had so many positives, and so much growth in the program this year,” Gorton said. “Just being able to build and work forward was the goal.
“Our goals were to repeat in the league, and win just the third district title in the program’s history. We were able to achieve one of those, so there’s no need to feel bad about the season.”
Pentwater graduates only three seniors this year, but Gorton said their departure cuts deep, personally and professionally.
“They were a great three kids, and staples in the program,” Gorton said of Madi Wagner, Hall and Taylor Ruggles. “Julia and Madi have been on the varsity for four years. They really stepped in and really led this team.
“Really kept the drama off the court, and really led with positivity, great encouragement and really made that crew a team. I think that’s the thing I’m going to miss the most.
“Obviously, (they) put up some pretty awesome stats. But, their ability to lead was really crucial, and that’s the thing that scares me (about) next year.
“I’ve got the girls to come back and have more success next season, but it’s going to be whether someone can step up and fill those seniors’ shoes in terms of a leadership perspective that I’m really going to be looking for.”
Two of the key components returning next year should be junior Mackenzie Breitner and sophomore Jhordan Miller-Rowe, who were big time contributors this season.
Wagner filled out Pentwater’s stat sheet. She finished as the Falcons’ leading scorer this season with 297 points for a 13.5 points per game, shooting 46 percent from the field and also had 264 rebounds, 56 steals and 36 assists.
She was a double-double machine, too, with at least 12 such games this season when she had double figure scoring and rebounding.
Hall scored 244 points on the season for a 12.2 points a game average with 41 assists, 72 rebounds and led the team with 78 steals, which was almost four per game.
Gorton said that Terra Cluchey will be the Falcons’ go-to senior next year, calling her a “lights out shooter and a great ball handler,” who averaged 8.5 points per game and had a team-high 56 assists, or three per game.
“We were pretty spread out in terms of assists,” Gorton said. “We didn’t have one big leader, but she was definitely our offensive facilitator.
“So, to bring her back in a year where we lose Madi and Julia, it’s going to be really helpful. Other than that, I still have some young kids.”
Miller-Rowe was the tallest player on the team, and led the Falcons in blocked shots with 51 or two per game.
Gorton said Miller-Rowe had a tendency to pick up more fouls than blocked shots last year as a freshman, but really worked on it and became a more effective shot blocker this season.
Knowing that Miller-Rowe was lurking down low, teams hesitated taking the ball inside. She also was a force on the glass with 129 rebounds (5.9 average), and scored 5.8 points a game.
A couple of juniors waiting in the wings to step in next year are Breitner, who came on toward the end of the season as another post player, as well as Makaylah Cornelisse and Mika Hugo.
“They didn’t get as much time as I’d like to get them, just because I had a pretty solid seven,” Gorton said. “They’ll be wanting to show what they can do next year.
“Our junior varsity team only lost two games in conference, and is sending me five kids. I’ll be able to take those girls and incorporate them (into the lineup).
“I’ll be able to run 10 girls in practice for the first time … ever. I’m already anxious to see how it’s going to look, and how it’s going to work.”
Gorton knows he’s going to have the tools if all the pieces fit together like he hopes they will to make another run at the league and the district.
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 email@example.com for story ideas.