Boys JV basketball ends season strong despite an unexpected coaching change

Tommy Spaletto

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Head coach Gordon Shields helped a talented boys JV basketball team make a very hard transition that not many teams are faced with in a season. After the departure of former coach Kevin Banner, Shields led the Rangers to an 8-5 record during his time and helped the team place second in the OK White conference.

For the new coach, it was difficult stepping in and coaching a team he had very little experience with.

“The hardest part for me was learning the Rangerball offense,” Shields said. “Overall the team was very receptive of me, which made the process go smoothly. A big shout out goes to the team captains, Chris Battiste and Matthew Mahoney, for helping us through the transition.“

Despite the overall successful season, the team did have a rough start, losing the season-opener to East Kentwood by 26 points. After a tough loss, the Rangers rebounded quickly the next day to defeat the Traverse City Central Trojans on a sophomore Dallas Hopson buzzer-beating three-pointer.

The next week, FHC traveled to Grandville to play an excellent defensive game, holding the Bulldogs to only 31 points on the night. After knocking down some big shots and only allowing 8 points from the Bulldogs in the second half,  the Rangers secured a much needed non-conference win. However, the team suffered a heartbreaking loss in overtime to the Forest Hills Eastern Hawks the following week while trying to avenge one of their only four losses from the previous year.

“{The loss vs. FHE} was a tough pill to swallow,“ sophomore captain Matthew Mahoney said. “Losing against a rival like Eastern, especially knowing that was our only shot to beat them all season, was tough.“

Next for the boys came the Cornerstone Holiday Tournament, where they faced the Covenant Christian Chargers. Here, the boys had the privilege of playing under FHC boys varsity basketball coach Kyle Carhart during the coaching change; the Rangers would win by a whopping 33 points.

Coach Shields was thrown into the mix just in time for the tournament championship against Rockford. The boys would go on to lose narrowly by 5 points in a defensive slugfest, losing an opportunity that could’ve completely changed their season.

“It was definitely different having Coach Shields as a coach for the first few practices,” sophomore Jeremy James said. “He ran different drills and worked on different skills, mostly wanting us all to rebound and hustle any chance we got.“

The first conference game of the season didn’t go accordingly, as the Rangers lost by 10 points to Northview on the road, despite Dallas scoring a career-high 21 points. The following Tuesday, Shields would pick up his first win in a close game against a very underrated Greenville squad behind sophomore Peyton Bush’s 17 points. Two days later, the boys took on Cedar Springs and had one of their best offensive games of the season, scoring a total of 77 points in a dominant game from the FHC big men Chris Battiste and Matthew Mahoney.

In the following week sophomore George Hatchett debuted as a Ranger, but the boys fell to a very good Ottawa Hills squad who beat FHC twice last year. The Rangers responded well later in the week, defeating conference champion and arch-rival Forest Hills Northern on the road 53-43. The effort of the Rangers was shown in this game, as this started a trend that would continue for some time during conference play.

“That was a huge win for us,” sophomore Jonah Spates said. “It meant a lot for the guys on the team to beat our rival and started the process of our team coming together.“

FHC faced some major adversity just two days later, where the team suffered an 8-point loss to an experienced East Grand Rapids team; the Rangers were down big early and couldn’t find a way to make a push and take the lead. Then, the infamous “Snow Week” hit and the team did not play a game for 17 days; this moved up the rematch with Greenville to the next game for the Rangers. The team avoided another scare by the Yellow Jackets and barely snuck out with a win thanks to a late surge of offense in the fourth quarter. The following game, the Rangers would travel to take on the Lowell Red Arrows and there would score their highest point total on the season with 81 points in a dominant win.

The following game was FHC’s best offensive and defensive performance on the year. The Rangers avenged one of their earlier losses on the season, defeating Ottawa Hills in overtime fueled by a huge 22-point night by Chris Battiste.

“That was definitely one of the biggest wins of the year for us, especially considering the win kept our conference championship hopes alive,“ Chris said. “After losing at Ottawa Hills, the team needed this win. “

FHC finished its season going 1-1 in two consecutive days, losing a heartbreaker to Forest Hills Northern for the conference championship but bouncing back strong to rout Lowell the very next day. The team finished second in the OK White conference with a 7-3 conference record and 10-7 record overall.

“It was a slow process to fit all the pieces together in the beginning,” Jonah said. “However, we definitely improved and saw flashes of what is to come in our remaining time at Rangerball.”

Coach Shields believes the team will be in good hands in the future with the comradery and the competitive attitude the players share.

“This team is a very competitive group of men,“ Shields said. “Many of our drills in practice would get pretty lively. Their competitiveness makes them a pretty gritty bunch.“