WILLIAMSTON — For someone who staggered through the final weeks of the regular season in a shooting funk, Williamston junior Cole Kleiver wasn’t gun-shy in his team’s biggest game to date.
Shortly after tip-off in Friday’s Class B district championship game against Haslett, Kleiver launched a 3 with no hesitation. And then he launched another. And another. All three shots found the bottom of the net. It became a common theme for the junior.
Kleiver scored 15 of his game-high 35 points in the first quarter to help the Hornets run away for their second straight district championship in a 76-54 victory over the Vikings at Williamston High School.
“For about six games, I had only made like two 3s total,” said Kleiver, who hit five shots from downtown Friday night. “I’ve been in a slump, and I’ve been trying to get myself to shoot out of it. I finally got out of it, probably, two games ago.
“It was a huge momentum boost to come out with those 3s. …It gets the guys going, we all get hype, it gets the crowd going, and it really propelled us from there.”
Hornets celebrate with championship trophy. pic.twitter.com/Y73PoHS76U— James Edwards III (@JLEdwardsIII) March 11, 2017
The junior scored the first nine points of the game for Williamston and sparked a 20-8 run to open the contest. Sy Barnett, Kleiver’s backcourt mate, added 14 points, and his only bucket in the second quarter started a 12-4 run for the Hornets (19-4) to close the first half.
The Vikings (13-9) trailed by double digits the rest of the way.
It was the defense of Barnett and junior Frankie Toomey, who added seven points, that allowed Williamston to maintain a comfortable lead, as both guys chased around the sharpshooting guards of Haslett. Hornets interim coach Tom Lewis said his team’s defensive efforts the past few games have him believing his group is playing its best basketball at the perfect time.
“We started to defend and rebound a lot better at the end (of the season),” Lewis added. “Sexton was really good for us, Holt was good for us to try and defend in space — they were really quick. We knew Sexton and Eastern would really pound the boards, and we’ve been trying to be a better rebounding team and defensive team.
“We knew Haslett had a lot of shooters, so we tried to defend that perimeter. I think we did a good job with the scout tonight.”
Senior forward Avery McKinney led Haslett with 16 points, and guards Evan Block and Mitchell Mowid each added 12 points.
The Vikings were unable to put together a lopsided stretch in the game, as the Hornets had an answer for each Haslett run in the second half. McKinney said that Williamston’s fiery start bothered his team.
“It shook us a little bit,” the senior said. “We just tried to keep a positive mindset. Keep working back into the game, but, yeah, it did shake us a little bit.”
Vikings senior Callum McIntosh added seven points.
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.