The 2018-19 season has begun. The new look Panthers look to capture their fourth straight conference title. In honor of the new season starting, we must not forget the remarkable season the Panthers had last year. West Ottawa’s varsity basketball team competed in the state championship. The first game was against Zeeland West at home.
Game one of the playoffs: West Ottawa took on Zeeland West at home
The stands were packed to watch the nine seniors play their last home game. Zeeland West had a below .500 record, and they struggled throughout their season. However, Zeeland came out and played the Panthers tough. In fact, the Panthers only led by 5 at halftime. Srs. Tyler Bosma, Xavier Wade, and Drew Pedersen were not playing well. This was a wake up game for the Panthers. “I was shocked. I thought we were supposed to crush Zeeland,” Black Hole member Blake Racelis said. “We got to wake up. This is our last tournament run. Do we really want to go out like this?” Senior Xavier Wade encouraged during halftime. Coming out stronger in the second half, the Panthers came away with a 42-28 victory in a sloppy first round game. “It was in some ways a wake-up call and showed us that we needed to step up our game for the rest of the tournament if we wanted to make a run,” Bosma said. After their win, the Panthers would face Grandville, a familiar conference foe.
Game two: West Ottawa played Grandville at Hudsonville
Grandville placed 6th in the OK Red conference, and struggled throughout the season. Earlier in the season, Grandville played the Panthers tough, only losing 46-43. However, the playoff game was not the case. The Panthers came out energized and hungry for another win. Bosma led the Panthers with 23 points. “It was cool seeing them win by a bigger margin because the first game did not look so good and this game seemed like it helped their confidence for the rest of the tournament,” Black Hole member Josh Lehmann said. Due to excellent performances by Bosma and Nick Wehrmeyer, the Panthers defeated Grandville 58-33.
Game three: District championship against Jenison
The Panthers looked to capture their second district title as they took on Jenison at Hudsonville. Jenison was an above .500 team with a Division I player: Jacob Boonyasith. Boonyasith committed to Air Force to play basketball, and he proved why throughout the game. Leading his squad with 23 points, Boonyasith displayed his talents in a marquee matchup. With just 20 seconds to go, the Panthers trailed 47-48. They had the ball, hoping to score at the buzzer. Then, with less than five seconds to go, Bosma drove down the right side of the lane and converted an and-one. After the free throw, the Panthers went up 50-48 with 3.2 seconds to go. Jenison called timeout. After the timeout, Jenison in-bounded the ball to Boonyasith. Boonyasith drew two defenders, and found an open teammate who attempted a deep three which fell short. The Panthers won their second district championship in nail-biting fashion.
Game four: the Panthers played Forest Hills Northern in a Regional semi-final rematch
Last season, the Panthers dominated the Huskies, winning by 40 points. This time was not the same. Similar to the first game, the Panthers played sloppy basketball. Many West Ottawa players had a rough first half. However, a motivated group of seniors came out stronger in the second half and they extended their lead over the Huskies. Wehrmeyer had a fantastic second half to help the Panthers secure a win over the Huskies. West Ottawa executed a game plan in the second half, and it payed off. “They buy in and they are great kids to coach… I’m just glad they are on my side,” Head coach Steve Windemuller said. The Panthers won 56-47, earning a chance to play Muskegon in the Regional final.
Game five: Regional final against Muskegon
Muskegon came in with a 20-3 record. They entered as the clear favorites to take the title. This game had an attitude of revenge for West Ottawa after losing on a heartbreaking buzzer beater last year in the Regional final against Grand Rapids Christian. Both teams played defense well. In a low-scoring affair, the Panthers found themselves down 16-12 at halftime. Though the Panthers came out strong in the 3rd quarter, they remained down four entering the fourth. In the fourth, Muskegon did not make free throws, and West Ottawa took advantage. Bosma made all 12 of his free throws, helping to send the game to overtime. In overtime, the Panthers continued their success at the free throw line. In fact, Junior, Jason Fairfield hit two free throws to seal the win for the Panthers with seconds to go. “It was so nerve-racking at the line and I knew after I hit it, it put the game out of reach for Muskegon.” Fairfield said. His free throws gave the Panthers their first Regional title in school history. Bosma led the Panthers with 19 points, while Muskegon Junior, Eonte Tornes had 22 to lead all scorers. “We didn’t close it. Give Steve and West Ottawa a lot of credit,” Muskegon coach Keith Guy said. The final score was 46-42. West Ottawa would play East Lansing (23-1) at Lansing Eastern for a chance to go to Breslin Center.
Game Six: Quarterfinal against East Lansing
East Lansing came into the matchup with one loss, coming against conference foe Okemos. East Lansing had a nationally ranked recruit, Brandon Johns. Johns is a 6’8” 225 pound player who ranked as the 58th best player in the Class of 2018. They played the game at Lansing Eastern High School, and there was not an open seat. Both schools brought massive student sections, and the atmosphere was incredible. With over 4,000 people in attendance, the Panthers came out sluggish as they found themselves down 14-9 after the first quarter. However, in the second quarter, Senior Drew Pedersen and Junior Jason Fairfield made a couple three-point shots to give the Panthers the lead. In fact, they led 27-23 at the half. After a quiet first half, Johns came out hot in the second. He gave his team the spark they needed and the momentum had shifted. But, the Panthers responded with two quick threes at the end. After three quarters, the Panthers led 40-36. Similar to their previous games, the Panthers knocked down crucial free throws. Bosma knocked down two free throws late in the game to seal another victory for the Panthers. They were heading to the Breslin Center. Former player John Wehrmeyer expressed his joy for the program when he stated “Playing with all those seniors, I felt like I played a small role in helping them develop and seeing them succeed was special to watch.” The Panthers would face Novi at the Breslin Center in their next matchup.
Game Seven: Semi-final against Novi
The Panthers felt confident coming into the game. Novi did not have the regular season record some would expect from a state semifinalist. However, they played well during playoff time, which matters. Novi had a Division I player, Travion Maddox. Maddox is a 6’5” 190 pound guard who was the team’s best player. Similar to their previous games, the Panthers started off slow. Falling behind 17-14 by the end of the first. But, in the second quarter they found a groove and cut the lead to one at the half. Seniors Xavier Wade and Drew Pedersen connected early in the third to shift the momentum. In fact, they took a 37-35 lead after the third. After coming out strong in the fourth, the Panthers sealed the win by making their free throws. Courtesy of an all-around team effort, the Panthers headed to the State finals! “Watching a team like West Ottawa and seeing the success they had by playing team basketball will be a team that I will never forget,” Gerry Pedersen said. By playing the game the right way and playing as a team, the Panthers impacted the fans watching too.
Game Eight, State final against Clarkston
Before the game, many thought the Panthers could stay close. However, one player thwarted that from happening. Foster Loyer. Loyer won the Mr. Basketball award, and he proved why. He finished the game with 41 points and the Panthers tried to stop him in every way possible. Loyer and Clarkston mounted a huge lead early, and they never looked back. The final score was 81-38. This was a tough way to go out for the Panthers, but positives would come out of the game. The Panthers clinched their first regional title in school history and appeared in the State championship game. “It was a tough loss for the Panthers today, but I still love looking at these pictures and capturing the memories of our state championship game,” Duane Bosma said. The run the Panthers made touched the hearts of many people and some people will remember them for having the greatest playoff run in West Ottawa history.
Though the Panthers did not end the way they wanted; they gave the community a season to remember. The players made their families and school proud. Not to mention, the community came together throughout the journey. The team gave the community something to look forward to in the week. They demonstrated how to play team basketball. West Ottawa had an unforgettable season. A season the school and community will cherish forever.