True enough, Little Chute lost the crown jewels of its basketball program last season. But Tuesday night the Mustangs showed off what could be some diamonds in the rough.
Seniors DJ DeValk and Luke Verbruggen scored a team-high 17 points, senior Austin Gloudemans added 10 and Little Chute’s five new starters opened Eastern Valley Conference play with a solid 52-45 victory over Freedom.
“These kids practiced for basically a full year, and some of them more than a year, against (Turner) Botz, Kenneth (Lowe) and company,” said Mustangs coach Mickey Martin, speaking of his two Division 1 recruits and five senior starters from last season.
“Certainly that helped their game because they were going against quality competition night in and night out during practice. I think some of that toughness showed tonight. Our seniors have been waiting around a while to get on the floor and show what they can do and I’m happy for them tonight, they were able to do that.”
The Irish, which returned six of its top players from last year, led 23-15 with 2:34 left in the first half, but they closed with one missed shot and three empty trips and went into halftime up just five.
“The second quarter I think we just weathered the storm,” said Martin. “The bucket we got at the buzzer to end the half gave us a little momentum, giving us a little positive mojo coming into the third quarter.”
Little Chute went on a 9-4 run to open the second half to tie the game at 31-31, then consecutive three-pointers by Gloudemans gave the Mustangs a 37-33 lead as the momentum officially changed hands.
“All of last year we had the challenge of going against Kenny and Turner,” said Gloudemans, “and now we get the chance to show what we can do on the court.”
The Mustangs were also helped by switching from a man-to-man to a 2-3 zone, which stymied the Irish in the third quarter as they made only four-of-nine shots and committed four turnovers in being outscored 15-8.
“I think they came down and wanted to run set plays against our man,” said DeValk. “Switching to the 2-3 really threw that off and they couldn’t run a lot of their set plays.”
The Mustangs slowly built their lead in the final quarter and put the game on ice as DeValk made four-of-five free throws in the final minute.
“I hope we take away that you have to adjust to the ebb and flow of games,” said coach John Van Rossum of his Irish. “A lot of ups and downs for both teams in this game, and we have to learn to play through that little bit of adversity when things don’t go perfectly. We’ve got to be able to play through that.”
For the Little Chute seniors, it sent a message that while things have changed drastically they plan on the results being the same.
“We definitely think it’s our time to step up and do what we can do and just show what we’ve got,” said DeValk. “We wanted to show that Little Chute was still the top program in the EVC and we just came in and did our best, played great defense, got good shots and made the ball.
“It just tells us that Little Chute is still one of the better teams.”
Little Chute: DeValk 17, Gloudemans 2, Merryfield 2, Verbruggen 17, Gloudemans 10, Peerenboom 4. Totals 18 8-11 52. Three-pointers: DeValk 3, Verbruggen 3, Gloudemans 2. Fouls: 13.
Freedom: Green 2, Connelly 10, B. Schommer 6, E. Schommer 2, Waters 10, Hofacker 7, Gonnering 4, Maulick 4. Totals 19 4-7 45. Three-pointers: Connelly 2, Hofacker. Fouls: 15.