Regardless, it was a creepy, upsetting and irritating night for coach Mike Hudson and his Wildcats, who lost for the first time in seven outings and found themselves looking at an 0-1 record in the O-K Gold Conference standings.
It was creepy because:
• The game announcer loudly and proudly said at the start of the game that ESPN had picked Middleville to beat Wayland.
• The game was the reversal of Tuesday night’s big victory over state-ranked Otsego, when the ‘Cats fell behind 12-0 in the first quarter but came back to win by 18. This time they went up 18-3 in the first five minutes and TK appeared to have no answer for Wayland’s big guys, 6-6 Zac Nieuwkoop and 6-9 Lacey James.
• The verdict left a huge question about just who is the team to beat in the Gold this year. Wayland was supposed to be the cream of the crop, but the Trojans now are 7-0 and certain to be ranked among the state’s top 10 in next week’s Associated Press Class B ratings.
• It was upsetting because:
• Wayland made only one of six free throw attempts during the evening. TK made six of nine. And this is a team that a little more than a year ago that was accused of coming down with the “free throw flu.”
• Nieuwkoop scored 12 points in the first quarter, but only two more the rest of the night.
• The Wildcats were outscored 24-14 in that crucial last quarter, and even worse, they were outgunned 60-42 after the first five minutes.
• Middleville canned nine three-point field goals, three of them by reserve senior forward Ethan DeVries, who had the game of his life with 15 points, despite not even starting.
• Somehow, the ‘Cats defense gave up more than 60 points in a ballgame for the first time this season, with 60 of 63 scored in the last 27 minutes of a 32-minute ballgame.
• None of the Trojans was listed as being taller than 6-3, but they a terrific job of hanging in there on the boards against Wayland.
• Frankly, it’s really frustrating to let a huge early lead slip away en route to a defeat. Just ask Otsego.
It was irritating because:
• Three of TK’s top four scorers were playing with four fouls, but none of them fouled out. The only player retired to sidelines on fouls was senior point guard Dilon Aten.
• Sophomore guard Avery Hudson swished one of his patented NBA-length three-pointers, but it was waved off by referees who detected a TK player fouling James at the same time. So instead of putting three points on the board, Wayland got nothing because James missed the front end of a one-and-one situation at the line.
• Junior guard-forward Mike Kelly scored the Wildcats’ first free throw of the evening, but that was waved off as well because refs ruled Middleville coach Mike Rynearson (a Hopkins High School graduate) had called a timeout. At least Kelly came back out later and made the attempt, however.
Wayland led 20-8, 36-29 and 46-39 after the first three period stops. TK did not take the lead until early in the fourth quarter by scoring the first nine points and going up 48-46 on consecutive threes by Jackson Bronkema, DeVries and Tommy Hamilton, who topped all scorers for the evening with 22 points.
James then came roaring back with two consecutive baskets inside, but he got his pocket picked when he put the ball on the deck after hauling down a rebound, and the game was tied at 52. The ‘Cats never led again, and TK even went into a pseudo-stall. Unfortunately, it was Hamilton who went to the line because of the desperate fouls, and he made three of four.
Backing Hamilton’s 22 points and DeVries’ 15 were Francisco with 11 and Bronkema with eight.
Nieuwkoop led Wayland with 14, Aten had 13, Hudson 11 and James 10.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Wildcats, as Tuesday they travel to Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills for a 6 o’clock game.
PHOTO: Sophomore forward Zac Nieuwkoop (4) led Wayland with 14 points, 12 of them in the first half. (Photo courtesy Kenny Ritz)