“The atmosphere was electrifying” A look back at the regional final

%22The+atmosphere+was+electrifying%22+A+look+back+at+the+regional+final

Joe Sigler

Swish. The Grand Rapids Christian student section erupted and rushed the court at Grand Haven High School. The miracle shot off the hands of Thad Shymanski went in. West Ottawa’s regional championship basketball game ended abruptly. A game that was destined for overtime after a torrid fourth-quarter comeback never got there. The journey of the greatest team in WO Boys Varsity basketball was over in the blink of an eye. How did we get to that point?

  Only four hours earlier, the team was on the bus. Everybody was locked in. Jr. Drew Pedersen had his head down, listening to the team mixtape. He was doing everything he could to mentally prepare for maybe the biggest game he will ever play. He ran through plays in his head. He visualized positive thoughts. He pictured himself hitting the game winning shot or stealing the ball and getting an and-one in front of the roaring Black Hole. He was ready to go, and ready to win.

  At this time, the doors to the Grand Haven High School gymnasium opened and members of The Black Hole, who had been waiting to claim their seats for hours, rushed in. The Black Hole had been fantastic all season, showing up in droves to all of the games. This game was the culmination of all that excitement for the entire season. “Looking back on it, it was a heartbreaking way to lose, but the energy of the game and the comeback made it one of my most memorable high school moments,” Sr. Spencer Carl said.    

  On the bus, Sr. Jake Van Tubbergen was focused on Grand Rapids Christian. “Before the game, all I could think about was how this might be my last high school game, and how hard I would have to work that night to keep playing with all my brothers,” Van Tubbergen said. Van Tubbergen signed a National Letter of Intent this past fall to play collegiate basketball at Grand Valley State University. He could have become complacent and coasted through his senior season before going on to bigger and better things. But Van Tubbergen worked harder than ever to establish himself as one of the greatest basketball players in WO history. In his opinion, the best way to cement his legacy was to lead the WO Boys Varsity Basketball where they had never been before, a regional championship game.

  The referee blew his whistle, took a quick dribble of the basketball, and threw the ball up for the opening tip. A forward tip by Jr. Tyler Bosma to Jr. Xavier Wade opened the game. Wade passed the ball back to Bosma who found a wide open Pedersen in the corner for three to open the scoring. “We love to start fast. Getting that first bucket sets the tone for the entire game. We have a lot of speed and athleticism and Coach Windy (Steve Windemuller) beat it into us this year that we need to outrun teams,” Bosma said. Earlier this year, the team went through a grueling practice.  “It felt more like we were on the track team than the basketball team,” Van Tubbergen said. That commitment to out-hustling teams paid off in the big game, and only five seconds were off the clock before that hustle paid off.

  The greatest season in WO Boys Varsity Basketball history saw the team lose only two games. The first loss was in an early season tournament to the team that eventually ended their season, the Grand Rapids Christian Eagles. The Eagles were ranked first in the state in every poll and ranking system both times the Panthers went to battle against them. Other than Grand Rapids Christian, no team gave WO a real run for their money. The bench players got a lot of minutes in the second halves of games this season. Another perk of beating up on teams is the defensive pressure can be backed off. The Panthers were able to slow the games down and run time off the clock before eventually winning  games by double-digit margins. This was not the case for the second meeting with the Eagles. The Panthers were down at half, and Coach Windemuller decided to put the pedal to the metal instead of easing up on the gas. WO ran a full court press, a 2-2-1 press to be exact, in order to stymie the rolling offense of Grand Rapids Christian. “We worked on this play almost every day in practice. It felt kind of dumb at first because we never used it in games because we blew out teams so often. But we knew we would have to use it in the big game when it mattered. That press got us back into the game and just about saved our season,” Van Tubbergen said.

  The Panthers used clutch outside shooting, scrappiness, and a few lucky bounces to make a 17-point fourth quarter deficit disappear. With just over two minutes remaining in the game, Coach Windemuller called an isolation play for Van Tubbergen. He had the ball just inside half court, with all his teammates swung out onto the three point line to allow him space to operate. The Black Hole was rocking and there was not a person in the stands whose eyes were not glued to the action. “Being in the gym was beyond thrilling! The atmosphere was electrifying, tense, and nail biting. It was the best high school game I had ever seen,” WO fan Vanessa Rose said. Van Tubbergen drove to the hoop, fought through hard contact, and muscled the ball into the hoop. The Black Hole went absolutely wild and helped Van Tubbergen up after he fell to the ground with the foul-causing contact. This play did not work only in the regional championship game. Windemuller would call this play for his best one-on-one player in a big spot whenever he thought Van Tubbergen could get to the hoop and draw contact. Windemuller used it as a real momentum swinger. Van tubbergen swung the momentum to the Panthers for a brief moment. But a costly five-second call and jump ball to the Eagles in the final minute of the game set up the play that will live in WO infamy. After that all-time epic comeback, after all those offseason workouts and shootarounds, after all the practice and preparation, Shymanski’s shot still went in.

  The crowd’s heart sank. Half of the crowd that is. The north and east sides of the gym were in stunned disbelief. There is no way that went in. Tears were dribbling down the faces of fans. How could the game end like that? That ridiculous comeback could not have just been wasted. This season, this incredibly successful season, could not have ended like that. The fans wanted the win for the players almost as much as the players wanted the win themselves. Absolute heartbreak. The other sides of the gym were ecstatic. Their team had just won the most remarkable high school basketball game in any of their lifetimes. It was complete chaos. The Eagle’s student section was celebrating around the WO players who were laying on the floor with their hands on their heads. When it was time to head to the locker room, the Panthers had to walk through the celebration, seeing what easily could have been theirs on another night.

  Ten minutes of brutal silence was finally broken when Windemuller walked into the WO locker room. What does a coach say after an absolutely devastating loss? Coaches put in countless hours preparing for big games, and Windemuller certainly had every eventuality accounted for in the biggest game of the year against the best team in the state. So what did Windemuller do when he entered the locker room? He apologized for everything he could think of. He apologized for not calling timeouts when he should have, for not setting up a particular play, for not leading the team to victory. Windemuller should not have to apologize for anything, and neither should any of the players. This team sent the WO community on the deepest ride into the playoffs WO Boys Varsity Basketball has ever seen and one of the greatest rides in the history of WO athletics. Many of the boys were crying, but emotion is what makes sports so great.

  The miracle shot that sent WO home does not limit what they can do in the future. The basketball gods did not see to it that WO would win the regional championship, but WO Boys Varsity Basketball culture was permanently changed this season. The team has now proved that they can dominate the OK Red conference and district. There is always next year, and next year is looking pretty good.