HOLT – CJ Pruitt and the Okemos boys basketball team were looking forward to the postseason.
After finishing sixth in the CAAC Blue this year, the Chiefs were ready for a fresh start. And they got one Monday night.
Okemos opened the Class A district tournament with a 44-37 victory over Jackson Northwest at Holt High School.
“We had some tough losses that we need to make up for,” Pruitt said of his team’s regular-season struggles. “Some of them got away, some where we put ourselves out of it – just making mistakes.”
There were mistakes Monday night, but solid performances from a trio of upperclassmen allowed the Chiefs (8-13) to hold off the Mounties (4-16) and advance to play conference foe Jackson in the semifinals Wednesday.
Okemos lost to the Vikings twice this season by a combined nine points.
“I thought we played pretty well both times,” Chiefs coach Jeff Wonch said. “They just made enough plays to win, but maybe it’s our turn.”
Pruitt, who scored 10 points, helped Okemos capture and remain in the driver’s seat against Northwest with a strong first-quarter showing. The senior guard scored seven points within the first eight minutes, which included a 3-pointer to give his team a 10-8 lead.
The Chiefs didn’t trail again after that.
Senior point guard Chaz Richardson, who led the team in scoring during the regular season, struggled from the field for the first 16 minutes, but scored five of his 10 points in the third quarter. Richardson said he was happy to walk away with the win, but felt his team failed to put together the performance it was looking for to start the postseason.
“We were unsatisfied with our play,” he said. “We came out kind of sluggish, played to the level of the competition. Toward the end of the game, our (game) lifted. But we have to start off good from the start.”
Luke Stagg was a big reason the Chiefs were able to fend off the Mounties late, as the junior forward hit back-to-back buckets in the final minutes. Northwest cut its deficit down to six when Stagg, who also scored 10 points, converted on his first field goal since early in the third quarter. And on the ensuing possession, he hit a jump shot to push the lead back out to eight.
“I thought, in general, we all struggled from the field tonight,” Wonch said. “We really did not shoot the ball well. We’re going to have to be much better if we’re going to beat Jackson.”
Vail Hartman added seven points for Okemos.
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at JLEdwardsIII.