By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
The Grand Valley Mustangs and Badger Braves are about as evenly matched a set of teams in the Northeastern Athletic Conference as can be.
Teamwork is the key for both, but in a role reversal from the last four seasons, when the Braves had superstar scorer Sarah Bonar to provide clutch points, GV hasn’t had that luxury.
This season, the Mustangs have Jess Vormelker, and the sophomore guard helped her team overcome a slow first period and equally rough fourth quarter with a barrage of baskets in rapid succession in the second and third periods to lift the Mustangs to a sloppy, but thrilling 53-51 NAC win over the Braves.
Ten first period turnovers and 17 more in the fourth had the Mustangs on the ropes. Vormelker nailed four shots in a row late in the second quarter to spark the GV (3-0, 1-0) attack that led to a precarious 31-28 halftime edge.
Trailing 18-11 with 4:47 left in the second quarter, Chris Futty put home two buckets and the front end of a one and one free throw spot. Vormelker then nailed a 3-pointer with 3:06 left, another 23 seconds later to put GV up, 22-19, and then made a layup, two free shots, and a short jumper in the lane to put the Mustangs up for good at 28-26.
“We had way too many turnovers tonight,” a relieved GV coach Kim Triskett said. “I told the girls to just remain strong and keep working hard, and once we were in the lead, we really had to fight to keep it. The girls got the job done.”
Vormelker ended up with 29 points and 15 rebounds in the contest and Futty added 13 to account for the bulk of the Mustang points. Defense proved to be a big item in winning the contest for GV, especially late in the game.
After Vormelker drained another quartet of shots leading off the third period to push her team to a double digit lead after three periods of play, the Braves picked up their pressure.
GV got into foul trouble and the Mustangs were saved by their own tight defense and the inability of Badger (1-4, 0-2) to hit shots.
“I think Vormelker nailed us for like 12 points in the second quarter and another 10 in the third,” Badger coach Dusty Karr said. “We knew coming in that she could hit shots from as far as 25 feet out, we practiced for it, and she still nailed them. We shot poorly tonight. When you go something close to 10 for 32 (actually 14 of 32) from the line and lose by just two, it’s easy to see how you can lose a game.”
With scrums aplenty in the fourth quarter, 17 GV turnovers made for a horse race back and forth. Badger had its chances to get back, and finally worked the score to the final outcome as Holly Masters hit the second of a two shot opportunity with 1:05 left to play.
Nine loose balls later, GV controlled a loose ball after two missed Braves free throws, and the final horn sounded.
Badger had a trio of players in double digits. Sophomore post Harlee Logan tallied 17 to go with 10 rebounds and a steal. She also blocked a pair. Masters and Taylor Kramar each added 11.
The Mustangs came out on top in spite of the turnovers, which totaled 39. They slowly established control of the boards, winning that battle 54-41 behind Vormelker and Futty, who snared 10. Eight of those came on the offensive end of the floor.
One factor that doesn’t show up in the numbers was the inside pressure from Holly and Brady Nye, and pressure on top from the Mustang guards. Kelly Preske and Chelsea Stehlik were like gnats at an August picnic at Lake Shore Park.
“We made some adjustments at halftime,” Triskett said, “and we worked really hard to try to keep the ball out of the paint. We got into some foul trouble, so we had to play some younger kids a bit earlier than we wanted, but they did a nice job and we got the win.”
“When we fell behind in double digits in the third period,” Karr said, “the girls could have packed it in. We had four sophomores and a junior on the floor most of the fourth period, so we’re a bit young, but our effort was superb, and that’s all I can ask for.”
Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.