By Chad Wingert
CARO — Coming into Friday night’s annual showdown between Caro and Cass City, there weren’t many people who would have pinned Red Hawk junior Collin Hartwick as a favorite to take the games Most Valuable Player award.
But thanks to a couple of big shots from beyond the arc and a handful of clutch free-throws, Hartwick’s name will go on the M-81 Clash’s coveted MVP trophy after leading his squad to a 39-31 victory over the Tigers.
“Collin been showing up practice a lot these past couple weeks and he’s really been shooting the ball well. He played a lot over the summer and he’s probably my most improved player from last year’s team,” said Cass City head coach Aaron Fernald. “He’s definitely only going to get better as the year goes on. He hit some big shots and really came through at the free-throw line tonight as well.”
Hartwick nailed a three-pointer just over two minutes into the final frame, giving Cass City a 31-27 lead. After a scrappy defensive play by Cole Israelson, the Red Hawks found Hartwick for yet another triple, putting Cass City up by nine.
He also sank a pair of free throws with under a minute left to play to help his squad return home with the M-81 trophy. Hartwick finished the night with a game-high 13 points.
“Tonight’s game felt great. I just want to give all the glory to God,” Hartwick said. “I just started feeling it and my teammates helped me out by getting me the ball. Cole had a couple of steals too that helped. We just built up that intensity in the second half and that helped allow me to knock down those threes.”
“It means a lot to me, to win that award. I came into this game wanting to win the MVP and it feels great to end up getting it.”
Cass City got out to a rough start, trailing Caro 9-4 at the end of the first quarter. But, despite going into the half down 21-15, a dunk from Israelson and a deep three-pointer from Cody Orban sparked a flame within the Red Hawk offense.
Cass City continued to roll coming out of the break thanks to three-ball’s from Cody Ross, Orban and a put-back from Israelson that gave the Red Hawks a 25-23 lead, forcing Caro to call a timeout with just over two minutes left in the third.
Another Orban three pointer helped Cass City take a 28-27 edge into the final eight minutes of the night.
“We’ve got some decent shooters on this team, believe it or not. They didn’t shoot very well tonight and we didn’t execute very well on offense in the first half. We were just out of sync tonight and I’m sure not playing a game in three weeks has something to do with it,” said Fernald. “We played better and a lot harder in the second half, but Caro did a nice job of staying on us, staying scrappy. It wasn’t a pretty ball game to watch, but we will take the win.”
The Red Hawks offense came alive over the final two quarters while Caro’s went cold, scoring just six points in the third and four in the fourth, resulting in their third loss of the season.
Senior Dustin Koelzer led the Tigers with 12 points while Dakota Zapfe chipped in with eight. Jordan Bills finished with six points and Chad Bennett had five.
Cass City’s Israelson and Orban each had 11 points in the win.
“Cody didn’t have his best game tonight, but he is such a competitor. He plays hard, he doesn’t get down and he may make mistakes but, he is the heart and soul of our team. We are going to go as he goes this year,” said Fernald. “He’s had some great games already this year and I’m sure he will have a few more before the season is over.”
With the win, the Red Hawks improve to 3-1 on the season. They will put that record on the line again on Thursday, Jan. 3 when they take on a tough Marlette squad. Cass City opens Greater Thumb West play when they travel to Bad Axe on Tuesday, Jan. 8.
“I knew we were going to struggle a bit tonight. All we have done is practice and practice some more over these last three weeks. Then we had three days off where we couldn’t practice,” Fernald said. “It had to happen either now or right after the new year. It might as well happen now before league play. This was a good win. We will take it.”
Chad Wingert is the Sports Editor of the Advertiser and can be reached at Sports@tcadvertiser.com
For more boys basketball action from Friday, Dec. 29 2012, pick up the Saturday, Dec. 30 issue of the Advertiser