Jacob Bonnett’s career night lifts boys varsity basketball over Forest Hills Eastern

Jacob Bonnetts career night lifts boys varsity basketball over Forest Hills Eastern

Things didn’t go quite as planned when the boys varsity basketball team traveled to Forest Hills Eastern for the season opener just two years ago.

On Friday night, though, the Rangers had a chance to avenge their 2019 loss by hosting the Hawks to kick off the long-awaited 2021 season and grueling non-conference schedule.

The experience of winning many high-magnitude games last year was something that head coach Kyle Carhart hoped would fuel many of the returning players in a season-opening rivalry matchup. 

“In the first game of the year, especially against a rival school, there’s inevitably going to be a time when adversity will hit,” coach Carhart said before the game. “With our experience from last year, we are looking for those returning players, more specifically the seniors, to shore up those hectic moments.”

Much to the pleasure of coach Carhart, FHC’s experienced players stepped up in a huge way. 

The talk of the town entering this year was undoubtedly the talent that the Rangers possess; seniors Jacob Bonnett and Conner Milton were at the forefront of those conversations and were primed for eye-opening senior campaigns. Jacob and Conner certainly rose up to the challenge in Friday’s opener, scoring 29 and 19, respectively. Conner also grabbed 10 rebounds. 

Proving that he was an improved version of his all-state honorable mention self just a year ago, Bonnett weathered the storm early on for FHC.

 In a shaky first few minutes, he hit the team’s first shot of the game with a three from the corner. This certainly eased his teammates’ nerves and allowed them to settle in. He would eventually knock down another one to finish off the quarter with a small 15-13 deficit. 

The second quarter ran much more smoothly for the Rangers. Junior Levi McKenzie reached the board with a pretty pull-up jumper, followed by a pair of crucial three-pointers from Jacob and Conner to snag the upper hand and momentum. 

Leading 26-21 with five minutes to play in the first half, Bonnett went on a tear. He grabbed three steals in this time frame and scored 7 of FHC’s last 8 to close out the half.

There is no doubt that FHC’s other go-to scorer, Conner, was frustrated with his performance in the first half of action. Nonetheless, he was able to put those frustrations behind him for the final 16 minutes; the 6’5″ forward went on a scoring rampage in the third quarter, hitting FHC’s first two buckets before extending the lead to double digits with a triple.

One of the biggest stories of this game was sophomore Jonas VanderWoude; he knocked down several timely buckets. As the Hawks closed in on drawing even with a late third-quarter run, FHC’s lone underclassman was able to keep the Rangers afloat by stretching out the floor.

Then, with just four minutes to play and up by three, senior captain Ben Scholler converted on a game-defining play.

Driving the paint, Scholler used a beautiful shot-fake to get his defender in the air. He played the situation perfectly, gathering himself to draw the contact and execute a really tough finish underneath. 

This extended the Ranger lead to six points, and the boys never looked back. Composed play down the stretch and capitalizing on free-throw opportunities closed out the night, as FHC walked away with a 72-64 victory and 1-0 start to the season.

As manifested pre-game, the seniors were unbelievable in the opener.

Even with 54 of 72 points coming from seniors, the most overlooked facet was undoubtedly Pierson VanGorp’s defensive performance on Eastern standout Owen Hardy. Pierson’s hard-nosed, gritty defense on Hardy shaped the nature of the game from the opening tip-off and allowed Ranger defenders to focus on Eastern’s role players in a truly collective effort on the defensive end. 

“The seniors were definitely crucial for the team’s win,” senior captain Pierson Vangorp said. “When Eastern got it down to 3 points, our two go-to guys, Jacob and Conner, came up big for us and lifted everybody else’s play.”

The squad’s 48 percent performance from beyond the arc was a driving force behind the scoring output. With fans back in the building, it will be major for the Rangers to shoot the ball with consistency in hostile environments that were missed dearly last season. 

Speaking of hostile environments, FHC faces the ultimate test on Friday, December 17. The Rangers will travel to East Kentwood to take on an incredibly-talented Falcon squad in an inevitably adversarial atmosphere. 

“I think it’s great for our players to finally show their effort and commitment to their family, friends, and community,” coach Carhart said.