Sophomore Brandon Tagle holds the finish on a three pointer.

Sophomore Brandon Tagle holds the finish on a three pointer.

Kentwood basketball hosts McKinnon from Australia in split doubleheader

Conk boys won 73-62, while girls fell 43-35 against the Cougars.

Kentwood boys and girls basketball took on an opponent from the land of down under for the teams’ first games in the new year.

The Conks took on McKinnon Cougars out of Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 2. The two sides split the varsity matchups with Kentwood taking the Cougar boys down 73-62, while the girls fell 43-35.

The matchup was set up by girls Head Coach Jordan Nero, and boys Head Coach Blake Solomon took advantage of the opportunity to play a team from across the Pacific.

“We (the boys) have never done anything like this… Our girls scheduled versus their girls and asked us to tag along, and I thought it was a good idea and opportunity for us to play,” Solomon said.

The girls started off the doubleheader and just couldn’t quite click offensively. After trailing by five going into the second quarter, Niki Borris scored five points, helping Kentwood cut the Cougar lead to one point at halftime.

On defense, the Conquerors held McKinnon to just eight points, allowing their offense to find its legs.

Brent Simmons makes a pass against McKinnon. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Brent Simmons makes a pass against McKinnon. Ben Ray / The Reporter

The second half was not the best basketball the Conks played, only scoring one field goal in the entire quarter and just four points in total in the third. Freshman Tyanna Simms was the leading scorer in the second half with six points in the fourth quarter, providing a late spark for Kentwood.

On the boys side, Kentwood came out on fire — in the first four possessions, the Conks ended with a made basket. Four different players had two made field goals in the first quarter, propelling Kentwood to a 10-0 run to start the game.

But McKinnon punched right back and got the score to 15-10 midway through the first. After a timeout, Kentwood went back on a run and led 28-18 after one.

It was a solid winter break for the Conk boys. Over the two-week break from school, the boys went 5-2. The key is they are finally finding their place, after returning so many players from a year ago.

A possible season changing game happened in that seven-game span: a double-OT win against Graham-Kapowsin on the road that instilled confidence in the Conks.

Freshman Tyanna Sims takes on a defender. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Freshman Tyanna Sims takes on a defender. Ben Ray / The Reporter

“The GK game was one of my favorite games that I have ever coached in because we blew a 15-point lead the night before at halftime. The next day on the road, with no prep or practice, we had one common goal, which was to win the game. Nobody cared about their own individual stuff,” Solomon said.

A caveat to returning four out of five starters is people want a larger role than they had the previous year. This year’s Conk team struggled with that at the start of the year, but is now finding their way.

“There are challenges when you return a lot of guys because guys want expanded roles. Guys want to expand their game, so you don’t come back as the same team,” Solomon said.

After scoring just six points in the first half, Corey Tita found the basket with ease in the second half. He finished with 22 and a solid night leading the way for Coach Solomon. Tita had a lot of tough finishes near the basket, embracing a lot of contact.

“I know that I am strong than my opponent. I just have to know to use my body. When I do that, no one can stop me,” Tita said.

Kentwood’s boys also had a strong performance from a freshman. Brent Simmons got valuable minutes and might have only scored two points, but his presence was felt on both sides of the floor.

“He’s just an athletic freak. He’s just special. There are times in practice and in games if he’s out of position, he closes that gap,” Solomon said.

“He’s a great hustler, he’s all over the place…He’s one of the best defenders on the team. My freshman year I had that in me, but he’s just got that,” Tita said on Simmons.

Photos by Ben Ray / The Reporter
KW girls leading scorer Jessica Ajayi looks at her teammates.

Photos by Ben Ray / The Reporter KW girls leading scorer Jessica Ajayi looks at her teammates.

Last year, Brandon Tagle was the freshman making an impact, and this year he has even more on his plate. In the second half, he had a lapse in judgment and essentially passed the ball right to a McKinnon player. He then swatted the ball out of the player’s hands off their knee, gaining possession for Kentwood again.

That sort of quick memory is a big factor in developing as a high school athlete and leader of Kentwood’s boys.

“He’s so skilled and so smart. Last year he led the league in assists as a freshman, and this year I think he’s number one. His assist to turnover ratio is terrific for a young guy, especially because we ask him to do so much,” said Solomon.

The McKinnon boys side kind of reminded Solomon of the Tahoma Bears. Not a carbon copy but a similar playing style and that type of opponent that can really help the Conks learn more about themselves.

“They ran really well. They aren’t as necessarily athletic as Tahoma. But they run similar to how Tahoma did and move the ball really well and attack downhill,” Solomon said.

“For us this game was really beneficial for us because I think real world pressure and real game pressure is big for us. We gotta learn how to deal with it and learn how to close games,” he added.

Kentwood sits in fourth place in the NPSL, behind Kennedy, Federal Way and Tahoma in that order. The Conks have yet to play Kennedy and have led against Tahoma and Federal Way until late in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve been connecting more and trusting each other more. When we trust each other off the court, it’s just much easier on the court,” said Corey Tita on the teams success as of late.

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