SIDNEY TOWNSHIP — Coming off a 54-26 loss to Big Rapids at home on Friday night, Central Montcalm head coach Rob Putnam wasn’t sure what to expect from his team against Grant.
The Grant Tigers entered the home of the Green Hornets at 9-4 overall and were tied with Central Montcalm at 4-1 in the Central State Activities Association. It was a big game for both teams and the Hornets treated it as such in the practices in advance of Tuesday’s game.
Knowing how Grant likes to play, with tenacious full-court pressure all night, the Hornets prepared accordingly and, as junior Emily Putnam put it, they were plenty prepared.
“We kind of ran over it a lot (in practice) and we made girls that were playing defense on us face guard us like crazy,” Emily said. “That really helped because we played it like we would have in the game and it turned out just the same as it did in the game and we knew exactly what to do.”
The Hornets handled the pressure tremendously as they scored a season-high in points against a talented, pesky Grant defense, winning 70-55. Not bad for a team coming off what Rob Putnam called the worst game of their season yet.
“I’m through the roof right now,” Rob said. “That’s the best game we’ve played, just a complete game, they’re a very good team. This was a bounce-back from Friday night, which was probably the worst game we’ve played. Just couldn’t get it going, shooting, anything, just a struggle all night. Tonight, this was one of the best team games.”
After scoring just 26 points on Friday night, the Hornets nearly matched their total points from Friday in the first quarter of Tuesday’s game. Emily Putnam led the charge, getting the long ball going with three triples as she finished the first quarter with a team-high 11 points as the Green Hornets led, 25-8.
“I’ve been on the struggle bus lately,” Emily said. “I’ve been down low and I dug deep today and said, ‘I’m going to score,’ and I proved it.”
The Hornets, as a team, hit five triples in the first quarter. Rob Putnam admitted that he didn’t know where the sudden scoring surge came from but he was not about to argue with the results.
“We haven’t hit five threes in a game yet this year,” Rob said. “I think four was the most we’ve had and then tonight, they were just falling. I knew sooner or later it was going to click, it just took a little while. What a night to have it click, we knew Grant was going to be tough.
“We just talked about it in the locker room, when Emily and Maia (Sexton) get going right off the bat, it showed in our defense, it showed in the girls’ confidence, the other girls were hitting shots,” Rob added. “It was huge, just a great team win tonight.”
The Hornets would maintain their lead throughout the second quarter before senior Maia Sexton went down on the court with a lower leg injury that would sideline her for the rest of the game. That left the Hornets without their star center, a key cog in their offense, for the final 19 minutes of the game.
In response, the Hornets continued to execute the game plan, built the lead to their largest of the night at 36-15 with 1:33 left in the second quarter, and closed the period doubling up Grant — 38-19.
The nine-win Tigers would not go away lightly in the second half, scoring the first eight points of the quarter in 1:43. It looked as if Grant would have plenty of time to claw its way back into the game, but that’s when the Hornets continued to respond. Up 41-29 with 5:22 left in the third quarter, senior Zoey Bacon scored her first five points of the game in the next 40 seconds to put the Hornets back up 17 points. Every time Grant got close, the Hornets found a way to maintain their large lead.
“They were face-guarding me so my teammates knew they had to do something,” Emily said. “They were taking care of the ball really well, even off the bench, they were working really hard and getting buckets. We were all just working together and that helps, just going up and down the floor. We got a couple of easy buckets from that, just working together.”
Grant had its runs throughout the second half — always staying in the game but never coming within single digits of the Hornets’ big lead. The Tigers resorted to fouling in the fourth quarter to extend the game and, while the Hornets had their free-throw shooting troubles, it was never enough to put the lead in danger.
Emily Putnam finished with a team-high 21 points, with 16 of those coming in the first half. With her scoring slowing down, the rest of the team stepped up and it created a balanced box score. Bacon, sophomore Kendall Stout and senior Lauren Alexander all had 10 points while sophomore Marta Morillo Teresa added six points. There were other contributions farther down the bench, as well, in what Rob Putnam called a total team victory.
“Even the girls off the bench, some of the girls that don’t get a lot of minutes, Kyla (McKeown) came in with four points for us, Erin (Minikey) had a couple big rebounds,” Rob said. “It’s the little things like that which help our team so much, when you can count on having 10 girls who can give you something at some point in the game.”
Emily Putnam had a team-high seven rebounds while senior Lily Bohen added five boards and two steals to go along with her three points. Sexton finished with six points, three blocks, five rebounds and a steal in the first 13 minutes of the game.
With plenty of quality opponents still to come for the Green Hornets, both Rob and his daughter agreed that the convincing win came at the perfect time.
“We’ve got Sanford-Meridian coming here, who is a top-ranked team,” Rob said. “Kent City, we’ve got Charlotte in there, Morley Stanwood, so I was hoping it’d click soon. I think the girls realize what we’ve been telling them all season, ‘We have the talent, we just have to put it all together in one night,’ and we put it together tonight.”
“It feels awesome,” Emily added. “The team chemistry was really good, it really boosted all of our confidence. We’re really getting into the heart of our schedule and this confidence will boost us for the rest of the season.”
The Hornets, now with a record of 7-7, will next travel to Chippewa Hills at 6 p.m. Friday.