Otsego avenges loss to Dowagiac to earn league title
It’s been a while since members of the Otsego boys’ basketball team have felt the sting of defeat.
How long, you ask? Well, the last time the Bulldogs ended up on the wrong end of the final score dates back to Dec. 8 of last year, when they dropped a 66-60 decision to Dowagiac in the second game of the season.
Since then, Otsego has reeled off a string of 17 straight victories, winning the Wolverine Conference North title in the process and earning a berth in the league championship game on Thursday, March 1.
And Otsego’s opponent in the title game was none other than Dowagiac, affording the Bulldogs the opportunity to avenge the sole blemish on their record.
It’s an opportunity Otsego didn’t let slip away.
Trailing by seven points in the final minute of the third quarter, the Bulldogs used a long-range attack to lead a rally that led to a 54-49 victory.
Second-year Otsego coach Matt Dennis couldn’t help but smile as he watched his team celebrate the conference championship with the home fans.
“I’m so excited for these guys,” Dennis said. “When I got here last season, I let them know what was going to be expected of them. They bought in and did everything we asked of them. This championship is the direct result of the time and energy they’ve but into becoming a team.
“They deserve this and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
The conference championship is the culmination of a remarkable turnaround for the program during the past two seasons. Taking over a team that won four games the previous year, Dennis led Otsego to an 11-11 mark last season in advance of this season’s 19-1 regular-season showing.
“I knew we had a good team this year,” Dennis said. “But to be honest, these guys have exceeded the expectations I had for them coming into the season. I think they exceeded everyone’s expectations. And that’s a testament to their work ethic and desire to be the best they can be.”
The game remained close throughout the opening half, as Otsego held a slim 29-27 lead thanks largely to a 14-point first-half effort from Charlie Woodhams.
But the half wasn’t without a casualty for the Bulldogs, as senior Zac Lucas—a leading scorer for Otsego—suffered a knee injury early in the first quarter and was relegated to the bench the remainder of the game.
“Losing a player like Zac is never good, but these guys never panic,” Dennis said. “It’s that next-man-up mentality. They believe in each other and I believe in each of them. No matter who’s coming into the game, I always have a good feeling because I’m expecting them to do something good for us.”
Dowagiac did some good things in the third quarter, using a 13-4 run to build a 40-33 lead in the closing minute of the third frame.
“They’re obviously a good team,” Dennis said of the Chieftains. “We knew beating them wouldn’t be easy and we’d have to battle.”
And battle the Bulldogs did, getting a 3-pointer from Addison Atwater in the final seconds of the third stanza. They carried that momentum into the fourth quarter, opening the frame on an 8-2 run that included a pair of 3-pointers from Will Eldred, the final of which put Otsego up 44-42.
Dowagiac knotted the score at 44-44 on a basket by #34, but the Bulldogs responded again, getting a bucket from Woodhams and another triple from Eldred to go up for good.
Until that trio of triples, Eldred had scored two points.
“Will is a very good shooter who puts in a lot of time to get better,” Dennis said. “He’s come up with some big shots for us all season, as has just about every guy on this team.”
Woodhams led Otsego with 18 points, followed by 11 from Eldred and eight from Jason Weber.