By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
The Little Engine That Could worked and worked from a precarious spot to get its load up a big hill.
After seeing a five-point first-half lead dissipate into a nine-point deficit over the course of nearly a quarter, and not looking so hot in doing it, the Grand Valley Mustangs clawed as hard as they could in beating Badger, 42-40, after a circus shot from Kyle Orgovan fell through the net at the buzzer.
“I think the kids really showed some heart tonight,” GV coach Luke Strohm said. “It was very big for me, and very big for our team, to come back and finish well tonight. We were down after our first game (a blowout loss at Berkshire). We talked in practice this week about our intensity.”
On the game-winner, a loose ball under the Mustangs’ basket got shoved out to Kyle Orgovan with a second left on the clock. He grabbed it, pushed it back up and in with 0.2 seconds left.
Grand Valley (1-1, 1-0 in Northeastern Athletic Conference) battled back from an early 5-1 deficit as Badger showed what would give them the upper hand much of the game — a 3-pointer from Matt Kraml and hot free throw shooting.
Josh Kovats finally hit a 3-pointer of his own for an 8-6 GV edge, but after Jake Vormelker (14 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 steals, 2 assists) hit a 3-pointer of his own midway through the second quarter, Kraml (25 points, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) and Joe Gorospe hit five of six free throws to total nine points in the period for a 20-14 lead at the half.
Kraml opened the scoring in the third quarter with a 3-pointer at the 4:30 mark, and an 8-0 run for GV was ended by another short jumper by Kraml to give his team a 25-22 lead after three periods.
Foul shooting was both a blessing and bane in the contest.
A 22 of 26 effort for Badger made the uphill climb even worse for GV as the Mustangs netted just 7 of 20.
Leading, 40-36, after Kraml hit two free throws with 2:02 to play, it took a Vormelker jumper from the left wing with 1:48 to play and single free throws from Vormelker and Nate Wengerd to forge a 40-40 tie with 40.6 seconds left to play.
Both teams, playing stifling defense all night long, then kicked the ball around until GV had a loose ball on the last second shot get pushed to Orgovan on the right side of the basket.
“I thought we played very well tonight,” Badger coach Chris Mott said. “In fact, both teams played great defense. I was really pleased with our patience tonight. We didn't turn the ball over too much, we played really good defense, but the thing that may have hurt us most was giving up offensive rebounds.”
Prior to the late rally, GV wasn't getting into any type of flow on offense. Then, late in the third period, started getting some second chances to score by grabbing offensive rebounds. While Vormelker was the leader with eight rebounds on the glass, Gabe Kovats (8 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist) keyed the slow push in cutting the gap with all of his boards being on the offensive glass. Second-chance opportunities finally got the ball to the bottom of the nets for the Mustangs, and Orgovan capped it all with his alert play to avoid overtime.
“That Kraml is a nice player for Badger,” Strohm said. “He takes the ball to the hole and finishes well. He killed us at the line. We work on foul shooting in practice a lot, too. We didn't shoot well until we had to, but if we had moved our feet better and not reached in defensively like we did, we would not have put them at the line as often as we did.
“Overall, I'd say it was a well played game for both teams. I'm glad Kyle was on the spot at the end.”
Balance was the norm for the Mustangs.
Vormelker led the way with 14, Gabe Kovats added eight and Orgovan and Josh Kovats each tallied seven.
Kraml was the only player with more than six for the Braves (0-2, 0-1).
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.