GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When the calendar started to wind towards mid-March, Covenant Christian was still trying to find out who it was as a basketball team.
With only two seniors on the roster and the team experiencing back-to-back losses for the first time all season (dropping their record to 8-5), it was a wonder with the postseason looming how far the Chargers could go.
“We’re an independent school, so our record may not always look the prettiest, but we are battle-tested.” head coach Tyler Schimmel said. “We’ve been through some good games, we came out on the short end of them and I think we learned a lot of lessons through them.
“Now, we’ve just been playing.”
Whatever the Chargers learned, it worked.
Despite one loss to Hudsonville Unity Christian since those back-to-back losses, Covenant Christian had won six of its last seven games, including a district title to send them in red hot to regionals.
Then came a tough test against Pewamo-Westphalia (12-2) in the semifinal matchup. Going into halftime, the Pirates held a 31-20 lead over Covenant Christian and at one point extended the lead to 14 midway through the third quarter.
With no shot clock in high school basketball, it leaves limited possessions for a comeback. Yet, that didn’t stop the Chargers.
They just didn’t miss on the chances they got.
“Some of the guys got pretty hard on themselves when we got down, but I just told the guys keep battling,” Schimmel said. “That’s when I thought our junior guard Zach (Gritters) took over the game.”
Gritters did just that. He was a huge part of the 17-2 run the team went on to make it just a one-point deficit as the closing minutes of the fourth quarter came into view. Between his facilitating of the ball, 3-point shooting and driving to the basket, he got his team back in the game.
Then, fellow junior guard Ethan Scholten had his moment to remember. On a pass from the corner, he knocked down a triple from the right wing to give the Chargers a 54-52 advantage. Then following a turnover and offense rebound, the ball was kicked out to Scholten again. He let another three fly — all net.
It put the Chargers up five points, and it never looked back, going on to a 68-57 victory to advance to the regional final.
“We preach to just make the extra pass to the open guy,” Scholten said. “This time, it just happened to be me. It wasn’t just me; it was the whole team making the extra pass to win the game in the fourth quarter.”
For Gritters, the key was to keep the same intensity the team played with in the second half into the game against North Muskegon in the championship.
“We have to keep turning defense into offense,” Gritters said. “Keep taking the open shot and just running a good offense.”
It’s now safe to say the Chargers did just that.
After the first couple minutes of the game, Covenant Christian seemed like it could get any bucket it wanted. They defeated the Norsemen 70-38 and took home another trophy.
More impressive than anything else, players like Gritters and Scholten aren’t even seniors. While seniors Josh Engelsma and Chet Doezema do play key roles on the team, it’s impressive that this team was able to win its last 8-of-9 games when it mattered most.
And for that, Schimmel couldn’t be prouder of the group.
“We just played our style of basketball and continued to believe,” Schimmel said. “We have a very young group and yeah, I’m just proud of these guys. We peaked at the right time.”
The Chargers will now take on Schoolcraft in the state quarterfinal on April 6 at 7 p.m. at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix.