WASHINGTON — When it’s not your night, it’s not your night, and unfortunately for the ninth-ranked Van Buren County girls basketball team, Wednesday night’s Class 2A Region 6 final didn’t end with the Warriors posing with a state tournament banner.
West Branch stifled the Warriors on defense, and even when the quality shots went up, it seemed like nothing was going right for the senior-led Warriors in a 58-38 loss.
“They shot well and we didn’t,” said Van Buren head coach Matt Zeitler. “Both teams played hard. I thought we played hard, but dang, we just couldn’t get balls to drop, and they could.”
Van Buren could never find their rhythm on offense. It was clear in the first quarter that the rims at Washington High School weren’t going to be forgiving on Van Buren’s side of the floor. The Warriors mustered just six first-quarter points, two of which came on a put-back layup at the buzzer by Taryn Scheuermann, and West Branch led 11-6 after one.
Scheuermann’s first-quarter ending layup sparked a run in which she scored 13 straight Warriors points. She had 11 points in the second quarter, but the rest of the team just couldn’t buy a basket.
Van Buren trailed by just three, at 20-17, in the waning minutes of the second period, but West Branch spiked five points in the final minute to take a 25-17 lead into the locker room.
Any hopes that Van Buren would be the sharpest team in the second half were dashed early. The Bears knocked down a 3-pointer to start the third quarter, and the Warriors played the rest of the game with their backs against the wall.
West Branch’s leading scorer, Sasha Koenig, haunted the Warriors in the second half. She dropped 14 points in the final two quarters, including three makes from down town, and finished the night with 19 points.
“They hurt, especially if you don’t score back at the other end,” Zeitler said about Koenig’s dagger 3-pointers. “If you score back at the other end, it helps a little bit, when they hit two or three of those suckers. She’s a Division 1 player, and she controlled the game.”
Even with everything seemingly going West Branch’s way, Van Buren scrapped back to within eight points before the third quarter closed. West Branch took a 37-29 lead into the final period.
Warrior fans waited for that one spark that could ignite a Van Buren rush in the final eight minutes, but on a cold night in February, the fuse never lit.
Despite the loss, Scheuermann finished the night with 20 points to lead all scorers. Madison Bartholomew and Isabel Manning scored six points apiece. Lexi Jirak had three. Grace Davidson scored two, and Chloe Davidson had one.
Koenig led West Branch with 19 points. Taya Young scored 15 and Taylor Thein had 10 to give the Bears three double-digit scorers.
While Manning is just a junior, it was the final high school game for the core of the Van Buren squad, the curtain call for a senior class that has won almost 80 games in their four years of high school basketball.
“I thought we played as hard as we could play,” Zeitler said. “They don’t give up. They’ve been fighters their whole career. It’s too bad, because I thought they were one of the top eight teams in the state, but it ain’t gonna happen.”