Fennville tops Saugatuck in Never Forgotten Game
The Friday, Jan. 19, boys’ basketball game between rivals Fennville and Saugatuck proved to be a back-and-forth affair that resulted in a 48-46 win for the Blackhawks.
While pleased with the outcome, the final score was far from the first thing on Fennville coach Joe Rodriguez’s mind.
“As coaches, we’re always talking to our players about playing for something bigger than themselves,” Rodriguez said. “This game provides the opportunity for them to do that.”
The game was the Seventh Annual Never Forgotten Game, which honors the memory of former Fennville standout Wes Leonard, who passed away from sudden cardiac arrest after hitting the game-winning shot to cap a perfect regular season for the Blackhawks in March 2011.
Proceeds from the game, hosted again by Hope College at the DeVos Fieldhouse, go to the Wes Leonard Heart Team, which provides Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to schools throughout Michigan.
“This is such a special event every year,” Rodriguez said. “It means so much to both of our communities. I know we’re rivals, but it’s a friendly rivalry. We’re all friends. We work together. We eat at the same restaurants. It’s just so special to be able to come together to remember Wes and, like I said, play for something bigger than ourselves.”
For Saugatuck coach Andy Diaz, the mission to get AEDs into as many schools and other public buildings as possible is a deeply personal one.
“Wes was such a great kid and I’m so glad our team and our community is able to be involved in this game every year,” Diaz said. “And for me, this message of AEDs really hits close to home. Seven years ago my mom had an issue at church and they used an AED on her. If there hadn’t been one there, she would have died.
“So to be part of this game and help raise money for other schools to get an AED is such a privilege. Somewhere down the line, somebody might be saved because of the money we helped raise here tonight. For these kids to be part of something like that is amazing.”
As for the game itself, it was a close affair throughout. Neither team outscored the other by more than three points in any quarter and no quarter ended with more than a two-point differential.
The game started well enough for Fennville, which got baskets from Jordan Pena and Marcel Parcher on its first two shots to take a quick 4-0 lead. But the Blackhawks missed their next five shots and seven of their next eight shots before ending the quarter with a 13-11 lead.
“You have to remember these are 15, 16, 17-year old kids and this is an emotional game for everyone,” Rodriguez said. “As much as you want them to treat it like a normal game, its not. It’s a bigger court in front of a big crowd and sometimes you can get a little too pumped up. But as a coach you just have to give the kids a little freedom in a situation like this.”
Fennville maintained its two-point lead at 24-22 at halftime before Saugatuck opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run—led by four points from Brad Dunn—to go up 30-24. The Blackhawks responded with an 8-0 run of its own thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from Felipe Martinez sandwiched around a basket from Matthew Sanchez.
But by quarter’s end, Saugatuck held a slim 37-36 lead.
That point total was more than the Indians had managed in either of its previous two games, as they were held to less than 30 points in losses to Martin and Coloma.
“We’ve really been struggling offensively and knew we had to change up some things,” Diaz said. “As a coach, it’s easy to be stubborn and dig your heels in. But the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So we did some different things and the kids responded.”
Fennville tried to pull away in the fourth quarter, going up 44-38 thanks to a 8-1 run, but couldn’t quite shake Saugatuck.
The Indians got a basket from Teaque Tiemeyer to make it a 46-44 game with 1:05 left before getting the ball back after forcing a turnover. But following a timeout, Saugatuck was called for a backcourt violation on an inbounds play to give the ball back to Fennville.
The Blackhawks got a pair of free throws from Pena, which proved to be the winning points.
“That was a big play,” Rodriguez said of the turnover by Saugatuck. “They had the momentum going their way, so to get the ball back and make a couple of free throws was big.”
Pena led a balanced Fennville attack with13 points, followed by nine each from Jace Cossey and Martinez.
Dunn scored 14 points for Saugatuck, with Tiemeyer going for eight. Shriver and Connor Carper added seven points each.