HOLTON – With all the key injuries they’ve suffered this season, the North Muskegon Norsemen could have packed it in weeks ago.
But they kept battling and on Friday that perseverance paid off with a trophy, following their 61-34 victory over Kent City in a Division 3 district championship game at Holton High School.
“The guys deserve it,” said Norse head coach Chuck Rypstra about his team, which lost two starters and another key player through the season. “If we hadn’t lost those three guys, I think we’d be even better. But other guys have stepped in, and I knew we had some guys. Thank goodness we have the depth we do.”
Senior Sam Gallo said pure determination helped his team earn its third straight district championship.
“I’m so proud of us,” he said. “We have two guys out with torn ACLs and another with surgery on his shoulder. We’re the toughest team in this district and we persevered through a lot.”
One of the Norse players who’s had to step up due to injuries is junior Lamarkis Graham, a North Muskegon newcomer this season, who totaled 16 points, five rebounds and three assists in the win.
“He had some 1-on-1’s and he’s a tough matchup,” said Rypstra about the junior. “He got by some guys and made plays. He really helped other guys start to open up and make plays, too.”
The first taste of a district title wasn’t be lost on Graham.
“It means a lot to me,” Graham said. “To play with the new team and come out here and ball is special. It means a lot to do this while losing three key players. It really feels great.”
The game started out relatively even with North Muskegon holding an 11-7 lead after eight minutes.
The Norse opened the game up in the second quarter, outscored Kent City 21-3 to take a commanding 32-10 halftime lead.
Kent City fought hard in the third quarter, outscoring North Muskegon 18-12 to cut the deficit to 44-28.
The Norse nailed down the win with a 17-6 advantage in the fourth quarter.
“This means a lot to us,” said Gallo, who finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the victory. “Especially with it being a three-peat. North Muskegon basketball hasn’t won three straight district titles in a long time. This is something to leave the younger players with and it’s really special.”
Jaxon Lisinski chipped in 14 points for the Norse while Adam Dugener had 10 points and three assists.
Kent City was led by Jaret Jaramillo with 14 points and Seth Vanderwest with 10 points.
The Eagles finished the season with a 14-8 record.
The Norse will play Pewamo-Westphalia in the Division 3 regional semifinals at Kent City on Monday at 7 p.m.
“Guys have been there now,” said Rypstra about the experience his team will bring into their third straight regional appearance. “We’re going to go there and give it our best. We’ll get ready tomorrow and practice on Sunday and then it’s go time.”