Kentwood’s Jessica Ajayi battles through the contact. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kentwood’s Jessica Ajayi battles through the contact. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kentwood basketball swept by Tahoma

Boys fall by four in final minute, and girls lose to second-half surge from Tahoma.

It was a night of almost and maybes at Kentwood High School as both the boys and girls basketball teams fell to Tahoma at home Dec. 8.

The Almost

Kentwood’s boys team led the Bears after every quarter except the one that mattered.

“It was a culmination of what we have been building for the last year and a half and it bore out for three and a half quarters… We’re still learning how to win at that level,” Head Coach Blake Solomon said.

“I feel like we controlled the game and I think (Tahoma) wasn’t ready for what we brought… If anyone sees this game, they’ll know we are for real,” said Senior Blake Stempniak.

The matchup with Tahoma was a game that meant a lot to players in green and black, especially after the last few results going the way of the Bears.

Corey Tita goes up for a layup against Tahoma. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Corey Tita goes up for a layup against Tahoma. Ben Ray / The Reporter

“Sophomore year, they beat us with a half-court buzzer beater. Last year they knocked us out of the playoffs. I had this one circled for sure,” Stempniak said

This time around it was another competitive game, coming down to the wire: “I had a great a great shot to win the game and I missed it. Games aren’t defined by one shot,” Stempniak said.

After one failed attempt to draw up a play out of a timeout, it took a second play to set up Blake Stempniak with the game winning shot.

“He’s one of the best three-point shooters in the state and got a wide-open corner three and it didn’t go in. It’s a make or miss league,” Solomon said.

Stempniak had the look the Conquerors wanted in the corner for three with four seconds left and down two points. But the shot hit the back of the rim and found the outstretched arms of Tahoma.

“We will live 100 out of 100 times with him getting that look in the end,” Solomon said.

“It was a perfect play call. Coach is super smart. I had the open shot and I just missed,” Stempniak said.

Even with that missed three, with the game on the line, Solomon liked how his lone senior played.

“I think it was his best all-around game I’ve seen him play. He defended and rebounded really well. He was physical and had two or three takes to the rim. He’s becoming a more complete player offensively and if he plays like that defensively, it makes it really tough,” Solomon said.

From the start of the game, Kentwood battled. Tahoma scored the first nine points of the game. But by the end of the quarter, thanks to a buzzer beater from sophomore point guard Brandon Tagle, the Conks took a 20-17 lead.

Free throw shooting was something of note for the Conks as they shot 14 of 14 from the free-throw line in the loss. Junior Mason St. Louis and the sophomore Tagle were the only two Kentwood players to go to the free-throw line, but made every shot.

“We have been really struggling at the line. Today though, the right guys got to the line and shot them with confidence,” Solomon said.

The largest lead after a quarter was going into the fourth with Kentwood up 49-42. But Tahoma, which made the state tournament the last two seasons, was going to put up a fight — and they did. Along with scoring a game high 22 in the fourth quarter, the Bears stifled the Conk offense.

Over the last 2:46 in the game, Kentwood scored just three points — a three from St. Louis.

Then from the 1:51 mark, leading 60-58, Kentwood wouldn’t score for the rest of the game.

“They did pick up the pressure in the fourth quarter, which slowed us down and tired us out. But we still had three or four looks that I really liked,” Solomon said.

Blake Stempniak watches on as a Tahoa player calls for the ball. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Blake Stempniak watches on as a Tahoa player calls for the ball. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Last year, the Conks had three seniors in a sport where seniors drive the production train. Kentwood had some success but faltered down the stretch, losing to this same Tahoma team in the district tournament. Kentwood was extremely young last season. This year they are trying to build on that experience and turn tough losses into wins.

“We’re going to be tested because our schedule is really tough…I think we showed tonight that we can play with them, so the confidence shouldn’t be lost even though they’re down right now. But the confidence has still got to be there,” Solomon said.

“We’ll watch film and see we could have done this or could have done that. Some things are game changing. We’re not young anymore so we’re going to learn quick,” Stempniak said.

The Maybe

Kentwood’s girls team started the night against Tahoma with hopes of avenging a 15-point loss to the Bears last season.

“I thought they played like they wanted it. They did what they were asked. It’s a game that means a lot to our communities, both of us. I felt like we ran out of gas but they still gave it everything they had,” said Head Coach Jordan Nero.

Defensively in the first half, the Conks caused a lot of problems for the Bears. This resulted in a lot of turnovers and steals for Kentwood.

“When they’re locked in, they are a good group. They enjoy playing together and can get some things done. The more and more throughout the year we can build depth and build a team, I think that will be even better for them,” Nero said.

Outside of Jessica Ajayi and Nikola Boris, the Conks just could not get going offensively. The Bears surged in the second half and cruised to a 51-37 win over Coach Nero’s squad.

Of the 37 points, Ajayi had 19 and Boris had 11, and combined for 81% of the Conks’ offensive output.

The game had some promise for the Conks. After a tough first quarter, Ajayi and Boris kept Kentwood in the game, trailing by just two points at the halftime break.

A bright spot for the Conks not named Ajayi or Borris is an energetic young freshman, Tyanna Simms. She didn’t have her best game scoring-wise, coming away with just three points, but played with tremendous fire and defensive intensity.

“She’s been a real bright spot for us. With freshmen, you’re never sure how they are going to step in. But over the summer when she started playing with us, you could tell she was that type of high-energy player…She’s going to have a nice career here when it’s all said and done. She’s going to have a great year this year,” Nero sad.

This Conks team may have been out of the game in the fourth quarter, but the energy the Conks had didn’t show the deficit they faced.

“It’s a testament to their growth as kids because we’ve had teams in the past that would have waved the white flag. It’s tough man, when you know the game is out of reach and you’ve given that much energy and there still battling. I think that will help us moving forward,” Nero said.

Kentwood’s Nikola Boris takes a three-pointer against Tahoma. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kentwood’s Nikola Boris takes a three-pointer against Tahoma. Ben Ray / The Reporter




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Kentwood sophomore Brandon Tagle engages a Tahoma defender. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Kentwood sophomore Brandon Tagle engages a Tahoma defender. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Ajayi and Boris high five after a foul by a Tahoma player. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Ajayi and Boris high five after a foul by a Tahoma player. Ben Ray / The Reporter

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