Conner Milton’s double-double lifts boys varsity basketball to a 46-44 win over East Grand Rapids

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Coming off of a momentum-gathering win against Byron Center, the boys varsity basketball team hosted one of its most bitter rivals: East Grand Rapids. In a heated exchange between two long-time foes, the game went down to the final buzzer. In the end, the incredible late-game defense is what did the trick for FHC’s 46-44 win over the Pioneers. Down the stretch, Conner Milton’s 13 points and 11 rebounds proved to be monumental in deciding the final outcome. On the final two possessions, while leading by two, senior Jonah Spates made a handful of fabulous plays to stop the opponent from tying the game. These clutch defensive stands allowed the Rangers to come away victorious.

“We pointed out before the game and at halftime that we had to play good, steady defense without gambling and fouling in order to win the game,” claimed senior Dallas Hopson. “That’s exactly what we did in those last few possessions.” The heroic stops made at the end of the game are a sign of significant improvement by this Ranger defense.

“We are close,” Dallas added when asked about the team’s defensive progression. “We have lots of potential and room to grow.” 

As the game went underway, FHC struggled to play solid, clean basketball. The team made four turnovers just barely four minutes into the game, establishing a hole that Rangerball would have to dig themselves out of for the next 30 or so minutes of action. However, this did not halt FHC from scoring early points. Junior forward Conner Milton scored the Rangers’ first two baskets, which was followed by a Chris Battiste three-pointer, as the senior continues to find the bottom of the net this season. Closing out the first quarter, Milton hit a three of his own. After forcing a jump ball, fellow junior Jacob Bonnett scored off of a nice feed from Jonah Spates. This tied the game at 12 entering the second quarter. 

FHC struggled to score early in the second, calling a timeout to re-group. Right out of the break, senior Jeremy James splashed two major three-pointers. These bench points were huge for the Rangers, as Dallas Hopson followed suit with two more points off of the bench. A bucket by Conner Milton in the final minute of the half put FHC on top 24-23 heading into the locker room. 

In a heavyweight battle, Rangerball was just looking for separation. After a first half that contained many miscues and mistakes, FHC cleaned up its act. Jonah Spates led off the half with a nice lay-in, shortly before senior Peyton Bush contributed an impressive finish of his own. After several shots made by East Grand Rapids, Conner Milton ended the drought with a driving bucket to the hoop. Ultimately, this would be the spark that the Rangers needed. Jeremy James made another three-pointer driving his total up to nine. Seniors Jonah Spates and Jacob Ervin traded scores, giving FHC its largest lead of the night at 39-32. As shown by this stretch, the capability for all players to score and contribute is something that is extremely promising for this team down the road; the variety of scoring for the Rangers late in the third quarter displays how unselfish the team is. 

“As a team, our ability to have multiple guys step up and make plays is something that we have relied on all year and will continue to do so,” stated head coach Kyle Carhart after the game. “Tonight, we had guys that were much more aggressive in the beginning part of the second half.” There is no doubt that when all of the players have high confidence and swagger that the execution levels are unmatched. 

In the fourth and final quarter, it was a tale of the defenses. EGR clamped the Rangers for upwards of two minutes, as the Pioneers scaled the lead back to just one point. Then, FHC stepped up. Highlighted by clutch shots to extend the lead by Conner Milton, Chris Battiste, and Jacob Ervin, Rangerball led 46-41 with just under two minutes remaining. 

Unfortunately for the Rangers, East Grand Rapids knocked down a huge three. Cutting the lead to just two, the window of opportunity was opening for the rival Pioneers with the chance to tie or take the lead. Senior Jonah Spates, however, had other plans. On the last possessions of the game, Spates defended perfectly in several scenarios. EGR was unable to score as a result of the stellar effort, closing out the game for FHC. In a wild one, Rangerball escaped with the 46-44 victory. 

Not only did Conner Milton tie his career-high point total, but he notched his career-high rebounding performance. The 11 boards led all players in this one, showing Milton’s impact on the glass. Also, the seniors did a fantastic job of chipping in. All but one senior scored a basket, as the class of 2021 was able to effectively win the game on the offensive and defensive end. 

“We had some good fortune. They missed the layup there at the end, but Jonah played great defense for three possessions in a row,” spoke coach Carhart, breaking down the late-game chaos. “Guys were also in good spots to secure the rebound. It’s always good to beat East.” 

Following this season-defining triumph, the Rangers close out the fatiguing week with a game at 10:00 A.M. on Saturday, February 27th, as FHC stays at home to host the struggling Lowell Red Arrows.