NORTON SHORES – There were tears streaming down the faces of some of the Muskegon girls basketball players as they walked out of their locker room on Tuesday night.
The Big Reds were obviously disappointed about ending their successful season with a 62-43 loss to a powerful Byron Center squad in the Division 1 regional semifinals at Mona Shores High School.
But those tears will dry up fast, and the excitement will return soon, because the future is very bright for the Muskegon girls basketball program.
The Big Reds had a roster this season that included nine freshmen or sophomores, including several who played key roles on the team, and they’re just going to keep getting better and better.
They’ve already accomplished a lot at the varsity level, and they’ve barely begun.
Muskegon finished the season with a 17-8 record, a second-place finish in the tough O-K Green conference and a Division 1 district championship. The Big Reds improved a lot as the season went on and entered Tuesday’s game with a six-game winning streak.
Those are big blocks to build on.
“A lot of the girls have grown up,” said Muskegon Coach Bernard Loudermill, who completed his first season with the team. “I think they did a really good job of keeping their heads up and competing this season. Now we have to get back to the gym and keep working toward being a better basketball team next season.
“Playing their first regional game against a really well-coached team was a positive experience for them.”
The Big Reds had a big assignment on Tuesday, facing a talented Byron Center team that was on quite a roll.
After starting the season 2-3, the Bulldogs had piled up 19 straight wins coming into regionals.
They demonstrated the keys to their success with timely three-point shooting (four in the game, including three in the second quarter), great free throw shooting (24 points from the line), and a junior named Lillian Zeinstra who can really light it up.
Zienstra finished with a game-high 26 points, including one triple and 11 points from the line.
The game was close in the first quarter. Byron Center led 12-11 with 2:21 remaining, then scored the last four points to take a 16-11 lead into the second.
The Bulldogs opened the second quarter with a 12-4 run, sparked by three-pointers from Avery DePagtr and McKenna Ferguson. They added two more triples in the quarter and led 36-27 at halftime.
Byron Center padded its lead with eight free throws in the first quarter and 11 in the second.
The Bulldogs cooled off a bit in the second half, missing their share of free throws and easy layups, but Muskegon struggled with Byron Center’s tough zone defense and failed to take advantage offensively.
The Bulldogs led 48-33 headed into the fourth quarter and were never really threatened down the stretch.
Freshman Mariah Sain had the hot hand for Muskegon with 20 points while senior Ty’Veonna Davis, playing in what turned out to be her last game, added 14.
“We didn’t execute well on defense,” Coach Loudermill said. “Our inability to stay focused defensively allowed them to get a lot of easy scores.
“It’s a learning curve for the young ladies. We have quite a few girls coming back and it’s all part of the process.”
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