Defensive pressure guides boys varsity basketball to the Cornerstone Holiday Tournament title


After a tough loss on the road at Wyoming, the boys varsity basketball knew it had the unique opportunity to regain its mojo. Squaring off against two state-renowned programs in the Cornerstone Holiday Tournament, Rangerball showed a different side; the Rangers’ defensive pressure told the tale of both matchups.

Coming into the annual Cornerstone Tournament, FHC knew it had to take back its true defensive identity. The boys responded early and often in the semifinal, allowing just 54 points in a 17-point blowout victory. 

It was a much closer contest in the championship against Hudsonville; yet, the Rangers showcased their ability to make winning plays late in games.

The boys allowed just 61 total points and were able to convert on late-game opportunities, including those at the free-throw line. In the end, they were the second consecutive Rangerball team to come away with a trophy at Cornerstone University. 

“For these two games, our players did a good job of being locked in and finding ways to get stops,” head coach Kyle Carhart said. “We can still get better in our execution; but, we had good effort, which is most important.”

It certainly didn’t seem like it was going to be easy for the Rangers on Tuesday, as they squared off against Pewamo-Westphalia. The Pirates, who won the state championship in 2019, have recently sprung to be a top program in Division III–not to mention losing just four games of their last 57 coming into Tuesday night’s matchup. 

However, after letting up an average of 70 points per game, FHC’s defense rose to the occasion. This was present from the opening jump, which led the Rangers to a number of easy conversions in transition and at the rim. 

“We amped up the pressure after that first quarter,” senior captain Pierson VanGorp said. “That’s what won us the game.”

Fellow senior captain Ben Scholler did the team’s dirty–but crucial–work against Pewamo-Westphalia. He did not reach the scoring column yet still managed to make a sizeable impact by recording team-highs with six steals and four assists. Fellow senior Conner Milton registered four assists as well but also knocked down 50 percent of his shots en route to an 11-and-10 night in which he added another double-double to his accolades. 

Rangerball led by five following a first quarter that featured some big plays early on. Senior Jacob Bonnett did his thing, while junior guard Jake Koning hit a pair of triples.

In the second quarter, though, FHC took full control of the game with its defense. 

Jacob scored the first seven points of the quarter, which opened up numerous outside looks. The Rangers seemed to be grabbing steals left and right. Junior Levi McKenzie extended the lead to 15 on a fantastic kick-out three from the corner. 

Shortly after, senior Pierson VanGorp and sophomore Jonas VanderWoude also took advantage of open looks from defensive success with long-range shots. Once Ben Scholler hit junior big man Sam Sneider for two consecutive uncontested layups, FHC saw itself up by a whopping 25 points entering the half.

Outside of a small Pirate run to begin the second half, coach Carhart and the Rangers sat in the driver’s seat for the remaining 16 minutes. Bonnett finished with a team-high 17 points, while Jonas notched 12 and Levi scored 11. FHC cruised to a 71-54 victory.

The Pewamo game was a complete team effort and certainly something that coach Carhart and his guys needed for a morale booster. Regardless, the boys faced possibly an even tougher challenge against Hudsonville in the Cornerstone Holiday Tournament Championship.

“The quick turnaround will be used as a good example in the future,” coach Carhart said.

Once again, FHC shined defensively at the outset of the game. They saw multiple looks in transition and jumped to an 8-0 lead. Hudsonville did its best job of remaining calm as they crawled back and went toe-to-toe with the Rangers for the rest of the game. 

Conner stole the headlines early on, with numerous steals and put-backs on the offensive glass. His rebounding efforts drove FHC all night long, as he grabbed 11 rebounds. Levi McKenzie and Jonas VanderWoude continued to provide the much-needed production from the outside with 16 points combined; they scored a multitude of crucial buckets.

Jacob Bonnett was named the tournament MVP with an average of 19 over the two games, with fellow senior Conner Milton making his way onto the tournament all-star team.

 Both players are beginning to turn heads, and if they can continue to stay consistent, the Rangers can be in contention for nearly anything. 

“I think this team is capable of doing great things for the next 15 games,” Jacob said following his MVP-worthy performance. “I think the more games we play, the better our chemistry will be.”

Rangerball has certainly set itself up for success heading into OK White conference play. Boasting a 4-1 record and a title to their name, the boys return to action after break on Friday, January 7, when they host Lowell at 7:30 PM. 

“The whole team showed great resolve,” coach Carhart said. “I think we may have set a tournament record for bench warnings!”