Cassopolis wins regional title

Published 10:10 am Monday, March 11, 2019

WATERVLIET — The Cassopolis Rangers celebrated the 30-year anniversary of its last Division 3 regional championship by defeating Schoolcraft 62-51 to advance to state quarterfinals at Gull Lake High School Tuesday night.

The Rangers (23-1) will face No. 3-ranked Pewamo-Westphalia (25-0) with a spot in the final four on the line. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

Cassopolis used its relentless defense to spur on its offense, which was led by senior Tyrese Hunt-Thompson, who scored 30 points, including 15 in the opening quarter.

Veteran Cassopolis coach Ricky Evans, who was overcome with emotion in the closing seconds of the victory, once again started brothers J.J. and Ashan Hart to help the Rangers turn up the defensive pressure on Schoolcraft.

It paid off in the end as the Eagles had dead legs, which led to multiple missed free throw opportunities down the stretch that could have helped keep them in the game.

Instead, the Rangers were able to rebound those missed free throws and head up the court at full-speed to score easy basket after easy basket, increasing its advantage to double figures in the closing minutes.

“We have to play hard and play great defense and utilize our speed,” Evans said. “At halftime tonight we didn’t have to make any adjustments. We just had to pick it up defensively.”

The game went back and forth most of the night with Schoolcraft having the better of it for the first three quarters.

The Eagles, who end the year at 20-5, trailed Cassopolis 17-15 after one quarter, but led 29-28 at halftime.

Schoolcraft still led 38-36 late in the third quarter before the Rangers made their run.

Hunt-Thompson’s 3-pointer in the final minute and a put-back by sophomore Brayden Saxton gave Cassopolis a 41-38 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Hunt-Thompson and Saxton carried the Rangers in the final eight minutes as the two combined four 17 points.
Saxton finished the night with 21 points, including 17 in the second half, and nine rebounds.

“It’s about time,” Evans said of winning the regional title. “I’m just so proud of these young men. They deserve all the credit. They worked their butts off. I’m just so happy for these kids.”

In the end, turnovers were the key to Cassopolis’ success.

“We didn’t take care of the ball well enough,” said Schoolcraft coach Randy Small. “They were just, quite honestly, more athletic than us. We’d get a loose ball and they’d take it away. They played a little bit harder than us at times. They got to most of the 50-50 balls when we needed to make a play.”

Ty Ryske, a freshman, led the Eagles with 16 points. He was the only Schoolcraft player to reach double figures.