In Play with Tom Markowski

Buckley picks up where it left off; opens tournament play with an 82-36 victory over Bear Lake

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

State Champs! Sports Network

Buckley – The state tournament offers some teams an opportunity, a second chance to prove they can be successful.

For other teams, the tournament can provide renewed energy; energy that perhaps was missing during the regular season.

Place Buckley as a member of the latter. The Bears were the surprise team of the Class D tournament last season as they reached the state final for the first time in school history finishing 27-1.

This season wasn’t so smooth. Many of the bumps Buckley faced often were found in its backyard, self-inflicted. Despite returning all five starters, the Bears finished 15-5 but there were a number of positives. For one they did finish in a three-way tie for first place in the Northwest Conference with Frankfort and Maple City Glenn Lake.

All the same, the tournament is what it’s all about. Austin Harris, one of four seniors in the starting lineup, knows that as does his coach, Blair Moss. It’s what put Buckley on the map last season.

The Bears opened tournament play on Wednesday and all of their season troubles were forgotten, if not forgiven, as they ran past Bear Lake, 82-36, in a district semifinal at Buckley.

Buckley will play Brethren (9-12), a 44-42 overtime winner over Fife Lake Forest Area in the first semifinal, on Friday for the district title at 7 p.m.

This one was over quickly. Harris scored eight of his team’s first 10 points as Buckley led 10-2. The Bears ended the first quarter on a 12-0 run for a 22-2 lead.

Buckley forced 13 turnovers in the quarter and Bear Lake missed its nine field goal tries.

The Bears were more physical, more aggressive and more confident. They led 49-13 at halftime

“We look at it as a new season,” Harris said. “We’re 1-0 now.

“People are going to come at us. We have to have that mental mindset. Getting to the finals helps us mentally. I love it – the competition.

“I try to bring intensity. I try to bring my teammates into it.”

Harris led Buckley with 27 points, seven assists, and six rebounds. Denver Cade added 17 points and 12 rebounds. Nick Kuhn, Buckley’s tallest player at 6-6, came off the bench and had 10 points and five rebounds. Point guard Joey Weber had seven points, five assists, and seven steals.

Kaiden Hejl led Bear Lake (18-4), champions of the West Michigan D League, with 17 points.

“That’s what we wanted,” Moss said. “Like I said before the game, we had to re-focus. Defense got us to where we were last year. We wanted to attack the rim. I told them, its conference champs against conference champs. We proved we play a tougher schedule.

“I didn’t know what to expect after being off for five days. We needed to flip the switch. It’s been a tough season. Everybody thinks they’re better than you. Now’s the time to prove ourselves.”