Bear Lake stays atop WMDL standings with win over Pentwater

Bear Lake’s Reagan Merrill (left) and Gary McBride (right) make life difficult for Pentwater’s Owen Knudsen (center) during the Lakers’ 62-47 win on Thursday. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

Bear Lake’s Reagan Merrill (left) and Gary McBride (right) make life difficult for Pentwater’s Owen Knudsen (center) during the Lakers’ 62-47 win on Thursday. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

BEAR LAKE — Bear Lake boys basketball remained undefeated but faced arguably its sternest test to date, at least for three quarters, in a 62-47 win over Pentwater Thursday night.

Kaiden Hejl led the way with 20 points, four rebounds, three steals and five assists for the Lakers (8-0 overall, 6-0 West Michigan D League), who came away from the contest with a one-game lead over Baldwin in the West Michigan D League standings, and two games clear of Pentwater and Walkerville.

Bear Lake head coach Garret Waller said that the win was a big one for his team’s conference title hopes.

“Our league has gotten a lot better,” Waller said. “We knew that we weren’t going to have a cakewalk with any of these teams. (Pentwater head coach Ashley Wojtas) definitely has them playing hard, and it showed from halftime that my guys have the grit to get after it. They dug deep and played much better in the second half.”

Pentwater won the opening tip and took a quick lead on a 3-pointer by Iain Stewart, but the Falcons (7-3, 4-2) didn’t see much time in the half court the rest of the first quarter.

Bear Lake answered with a three of its own from Trey Gilbert, and used its familiar withering full-court press to go on an 11-0 run from there.

But Pentwater clawed back into the game, tying it back up 17-17 with 6:29 left in the second quarter.

Gilbert had 19 points and five steals, two of those steals coming in a flurry at the end of the first half in which the Lakers scored six points in the final 12 seconds to take a 28-23 lead into the locker room at halftime.

“That gave us a little spark,” Waller said. “I saw what he was doing wrong, he was playing behind his guy (in the press). He finally got in front of his guy and got a couple of steals off of it.”

The momentum carried into the second half, which started with an and-1 3-point play by Belinsky and a strong drive to the basket by Gilbert that opened up a double-digit lead.

Hejl left the game when he was called for his fourth foul with 1:35 left in the third quarter, but Waller said that Kyle Fink gave Bear Lake some solid minutes off the bench.

But Pentwater had some foul trouble of its own, as Stewart and Austin Hoffman each committed his fourth foul in the third quarter, and the Falcons never really threatened again.

“I think they were getting a little tired,” Waller said. “The press wore them down a little bit, which is a good thing.”

Belinsky finished with 10 points and seven rebounds for the Lakers, who converted 23 of their 26 free throws in the contest.

Bear Lake has a key stretch of road games coming up, after its next game, a non-conference tilt at Suttons Bay on Monday, Jan. 22. The Lakers will then travel to Walkerville on Jan. 24 and Baldwin on Jan. 31.

“Baldwin is breathing down our neck now,” Waller said. “We’ve just got to keep plugging along. After Walkerville, we will have played all the conference teams once, and I’ll feel a lot better after that one.”

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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