Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
SHELBY — At 5-foot-5 and 5-foot-4, respectively, Hart seniors Aspen Boutell and Mariana VanAgtmael were the shortest players on the floor during a Division 3 regional basketball final against Kent City Thursday night at Shelby.
As basketball fans across the state are learning, never underestimate these Pirates. Boutell and VanAgtmael rose to the occasion and made some of the biggest plays, especially in crunch time.
Boutell knocked down midrange jumpers to keep Hart within striking distance and she calmly swished four free throws down the stretch. VanAgtmael blocked Kent City’s last-second, potential game-tying 3-pointer. Together, they sparked Hart to a 37-34 victory that gave the Pirates their first win in the series against the powerhouse program, which has finished state runner-up each of the last two seasons.
It’s Hart’s first regional title for girls basketball since 1992.
Boutell admitted to feel some nerves on her clutch shots.
“Yeah, all of them,” she said, prompting laughter from VanAgtmael during their tandem postgame interview. “I was so nervous the entire game. It was a nail-biter — it was really close all game. Taking some deep breaths at the free-throw line definitely helped.”
On the game’s final play, Kent City sharpshooter Lexie Bowers got a relatively clean look at a 3-pointer from the top of the key, but VanAgtmael came flying in from behind from behind to preserve the victory.
Under the “blocks” category of Hart’s handwritten stat sheet, the number “23” jumped out as much larger than the rest of the numbers on the page. That is VanAgtmael’s jersey number.
“I’m not a big blocker. (If) I get one block, I’m hype about it,” VanAgtmael said. “We just said, ‘We can’t give up the 3,’ and I was right there. I knew it was all ball. But then, like, for a split second I was like, ‘Oh, gosh, what if they call a foul?’ But they didn’t and I knew it was clean.
“It felt good,” she said with a giggle.
A throng of Hart fans made the short trip to nearby Shelby High School. Eagles fans showed up in numbers, too, as is their custom. Together, Hart and Kent City supporters combined to make a sea of red in the bleachers.
When the final buzzer sounded, highly emotional Hart players and coaches celebrated wildly at midcourt. The Pirates Posse student section, which showed up in numbers, joined the celebration by rushing the court after coach Travis Rosema hoisted the regional championship trophy.
After spending several minutes on the court soaking in the moment, taking photos with fans and socializing, Hart’s team boarded the bus and got a police escort back to town.
The Pirates were treated like rock stars — that’s how they’re viewed by their loyal backers.
“We had a packed house today and our ‘Posse’ really showed up,” Boutell said. “I think the bench really brought great energy and I think overall just the energy in the gym is what pushed us through.”
Hart (23-3) will take the show on the road, a much longer trip, for next week’s state quarterfinals against top-ranked Buchanan (23-1). The Pirates and Bucks square off at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bangor, which is located between Kalamazoo and South Haven.
Kent City finishes its season with a 21-5 record.
CatchMark presented a live audio stream of the game. You can go back and listen to it again here:
Here are more details and notables from the game:
- Kent City held the upper hand for a large portion of the game. The Eagles led 7-6 after one quarter, 19-12 at halftime and 23-19 through three quarters. Hart made its move in the fourth quarter.
- With two minutes left in the game and Hart trailing by one, VanAgtmael made her first free and missed her second, but sophomore Addi Hovey skied for the offensive rebound and converted a putback to give the Pirates the lead for good, 33-31.
- Boutell led Hart with 14 points, eight of them in the pivotal fourth quarter.
- Hart junior floor general Abby Hicks had 10 points, six rebounds and five steals.
- Hart sophomore Addi Hovey finished with nine points and 11 rebounds.
- Kent City featured two 1,000-point career scorers in senior Lexie Bowers and junior Madelyn Geers. Bowers was sensational in the game. The Northwood University signee and dangerous 3-point shooter scored a game-high 22 points. Her 3-pointer with less than 50 seconds left cut Hart’s lead to 35-34. It was the lone triple of the game for the Eagles, who typically rely heavily on that facet of the game. Geers added 10 points for Kent City, which had only three players score.
- Kent City defeated Hart earlier in the season, 58-52, in a game at Kent City that Hart led by five entering the fourth quarter.
- Next up for Hart is a major challenge against a top-ranked Buchanan squad featuring Miss Basketball finalist Faith Carson, a 6-foot-4 center and Ohio State signee, who is averaging 26 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks this season. Buchanan defeated Kalamazoo Christian in the regional finals Wednesday, 70-47. Carson and teammate LaBrian Austin, a 5-10 guard, both scored 29 points in the win for Buchanan, which captured its first regional title since 2001.
- Bowers was a class act in a postgame interview despite the heartbreaking loss. Watch the video here to hear from her:
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