Cassopolis defeated Schoolcraft 62-51 Thursday in front of a packed house at Watervliet, giving the Rangers their first boys basketball regional championship since 1989.
Despite the double-digit final margin, the game stayed within one or two possessions nearly all evening. Cassopolis took control of the tempo in the final two minutes of the game, finishing on a 13-7 run. An alley-oop to Brayden Saxton closed the evening with an exclamation point for the Rangers.
Tyrese Hunt-Thompson had 15 of his team’s 17 first quarter points, but Schoolcraft kept pace for a two-point deficit after one. Eagle freshman Ty Rykse fired up for an 11-point second quarter, stretching Schoolcraft to their largest lead of the night at seven points. Cassopolis got back within two by halftime, trailing 29-27.
Five of the game’s nine lead changes came in a back-and-fourth third quarter. The Rangers held a 41-38 advantage by the end of the third and wouldn’t trail for the rest of the evening.
With 1:49 remaining, the score sat at 50-44. After an Eagle miss, Saxton went coast-to-coast to give Cassopolis their biggest lead of the night up eight. Moments later, Hunt-Thompson stole the inbound and scored for a devastating final blow. As the final minute ticked down, Ranger head coach Ricky Evans could be seen jumping in anticipation. Saxton’s two-handed dunk on the floater from Hunt-Thompson in the final seconds caused the crowd to erupt even more.
“We picked it up on the defensive end,” said Evans. “The fellas, they wanted this. We got two steals and that’s what clinched it for us.”
“When we had to speed the game up, that’s not our benefit playing them,” said Schoolcraft coach Randy Small. “Once in the last two minutes, we had to start scrambling around and they’re a lot better at it than we are.”
“When we pick up the tempo, that’s when we’re playing best,” added Hunt-Thompson, who scored a game-high 30 points for the Rangers.
Schoolcraft finishes the season at 20-5, ending the year in the regional tournament for the third straight year. They graduate seniors Brady Flynn, Chris Cooper, Brice Walther, and Connor Nutt. The future remains bright though, with 40 of their 51 points coming from underclassmen.
“The seniors have carried on our tradition,” said Small. “It’s always tough when you have to see the seniors go, because there’s only four teams that end the season with a win. There’s always about 500-and-some teams going home upset. When you look at the body of work, that’s pretty impressive.”
Cassopolis moves to 23-1, finally breaking through after falling in the regional in the prior two seasons. It’s been a special academic year for the Rangers, as many of the basketball players also helped push Cassopolis football into the final four.
“We’re a small community and we love each other,” said Evans. “You see the crowd tonight, they support these kids. I couldn’t be happier.”
“It’s a blessing to get over this hump, finally,” noted Hunt-Thompson.
The Rangers play unbeaten Pewamo-Westphalia in Tuesday’s quarterfinal at 7 p.m. ET from Gull Lake High School. You can listen to the game live via JoeInsider.com.
Cassopolis Scoring: Tyrese Hunt-Thompson 30, Brayden Saxton 21, Cerious Wilson 7, Darrion Gatson 2, Ashan Hart 2
Schoolcrat Scoring: Ty Rykse 16, Bryce WanderWiere 9, Kobe Clark 8, Brice Walther 8, Trevor DeGroote 7, Connor Nutt 3